Monday, October 8, 2007

Culture Shifting



Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been thrilled by the advances in technology. I remember buying my first cell phone about 14 years ago and thinking that the world was about to change thanks to technology. My friends didn’t share this belief at the time but I held on to it. I had no idea what the internet was and how it was about to change many people’s lives.

I am a technology enthusiast and therefore my views might be biased but I strongly believe that technology has changed the way people interact with each other and as a consequence the way we think. There is a sense of connection that many people share thanks to the many gizmos that technology has created. It does not necessarily mean that our lives have improved but we see the world in a whole different way. In some odd way, this change may be compared to the ideological paradigm shift that occurred when it became a known fact that our planet was round. Today, it is not the notion that it is round that is about to reshape the way we apprehend the world but the fact that it is SMALL.

As a matter of fact, we do have the possibility to get to almost any place on Earth in less than a day. We can reach any remote location by means of communication in less than a second and this is truly remarkable. The possibility of being lost somewhere on our planet may soon disappear thanks to the omnipresence of GPS devices and its future implementation in most mobile devices.


My life and my wife's would not be the same at all if technology hadn’t shaped our everyday lives the way it did. We almost feel as if we were living in the US when we’re home and we probably know more about what is happening over there than in the country we both live in.

I see the world in a whole different way now as I think the notion of nations and culture is going to undergo tremendous changes. Most of us have access to a lot more information and a lot more means of communication. The world has never been so small. When it would take weeks to send a letter to the opposite side of the planet about 50 years ago, it now takes one second to send an email. The cost of long distance communications has plummeted in the last 5 years. It has become affordable for many people to keep in touch with far away relatives or friends. This has, in return, changed the way we interact with others as I do believe that from now on, where we live is going to matter less and less.

We are all going to be able to choose our lifestyle and our “sphere” of communications. I see individual homes as micro-cultural bubbles where every household can have access to the cultural background they choose and keep in touch with the rest of the world, thus enabling what I call “Cultutre shifting”. It has, indeed, become possible through new technologies to belong to a different culture than the one we are surrounded by. Of course, this possibility, in itself, is not new at all. As generations of migrants throughout history have always been keen on holding on to the culture they were born in. The first people that left Europe to go live in the US tended and still tend, for some of them, to gather together and talk about their native country, eat the food they used to eat when they were kids and so on…

This is however the opposite of what is now possible. As a matter of fact, it is nowadays possible to experience on an everyday basis a different culture than our own and as consequence, live in a culture that we were not raised in, hence the term “culture shifting”.

I recently met an old friend of mine that has been living in the US for 10 years. As me, he is French. He spends most of his time listening to French podcasts, watching French TV, speaking French on the phone or at home. This is a perfectly fine example of migrants holding on to their own culture in a different country. It, however, occurred to me that at the same time my fellow French friend living in the US was listening to French podcasts, I was the one living in France, listening to American podcasts in my car, watching American movies in English, surfing the Internet in English and reading more American magazines than French ones.

I am not the only one experiencing “culture shifting” as I am in touch with many people throughout the world that are using new technologies to do the same.

One could argue that we have been brainwashed by the American culture or the American way of life and that globalization has inevitably led to this and that it is a bad thing. I would have to disagree as I believe, that this tends to bring us all together throughout the world. Of course, we are very far from all living the same life and many differences still exist mostly between the technology-empowered countries and the non-technology-empowered ones.

Technology will grant us a sense of freedom that we have never experienced nor dreamed of in the past. We are closer to each other than we have ever been. I hope this will reinforce our motives to help each other and hopefully lead to less hatred among people.

We are soon all going to be hooked up to the internet almost continuously whether it be through a broadband home internet connection, a 3G cellular network or a wi-fi hotspot. Loosing this essential connection will become the source of an acute anxiety for people used to being “on” all the time. We are growing dependant on new technologies that, in return, make our lives much easier and most of all different.

What amazes me the most is how fast people are adapting to these new technologies. I witness it every day. People don’t communicate like they used to. They’re all sending emails, text messages, pictures and videos through their phones. Unfaithful husbands are not caught anymore because they leave bills or notes in their jackets but much more often when their wives read their emails or their text messages stored on their cell phones. After a break-up, people subscribe to online dating services almost as a learned reflex, not that they necessarily meet their future partners through these means but at least, they are expanding their possibilities. And most importantly, this is not limited to the youngest generations, everybody uses new technologies and through this use, we are all starting to think differently, we are all seeing the world on a much smaller scale and we are grasping the notion of memory in a different manner as well.

Our PDAs, computers and cell phones allow us to connect to the Internet, hence having constant access to information whether it be our personal information or anything else. We are, as a consequence, equipped constantly with a silicon-based memory-prosthesis that can enhance or replace our carbon-based brain. We have the possibility of accessing almost any information, anywhere and anytime and we’re just starting to learn how to adapt to this. We are entering the age of “total-mnesia” when it is possible to, not necessarily understand but, know everything through our memory-prosthesis. We will, less and less, have to learn information by heart at school but more and more have to know how to use it. All our knowledge has become so wide that one cannot know everything even in a very specialized field. Medecine is being taught in a different way, medical doctors don’t know everything anymore but they know how to access the information they need and how to make sense of it.

But one thing is for sure, in my opinion, we are living exciting times when science-fiction is becoming more and more reality. The human race is transcending its condition through the use of these new technologies and we’re on the brink of a new dawn. It is up to all of us to make good use of the technologies that we are empowered with and if we manage to do so, more exciting times are awaiting us.

4 comments:

cwmac said...

Cool! I'm glad to you see you embrace blogging, I'm sure we'll all learn alot !

Fr8d said...

It's nice to have friends! At least someone read my blog!

cwmac said...

Techno-friends de quatorze ans ! ;-)

Fr8d said...

18 actually!