Popular culture vs. cultural inheritance: the value of Knowledge
Culture is everpresent, bathing us in knowledge that permeates our consciousness. The impressions left by science fiction on many of our current advances are only a few examples .
“Culture can currently be considered a collection of distinctive features – spiritual and material, intellectual and emotional – which characterize a society or group.” At least this is how it was defined in 1982 in UNESCO´s Declaration on Cultural Policies, released after the World Conference celebrated in Mexico that same year. But this is just one of hundreds of existing definitions of culture.
The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), for example, has spent decades debating this term, which it currently defines as “a collection of knowledge which allows a person to develop critical thinking” and “a collection of lifestyles and traditions.” Perhaps it´s not surprising, then, that “cultura” was one of the most commonly referenced work on the RAE´s online dictionary in 2013 and 2014. But, why is culture so important?
Children learn by observing their surroundings, through what they see and experience. As we grow and develop, however, we tend to “forget” how to learn this way. But it we aim to broaden and advance our collective knowledge set, we will need to take a step back and take a closer look at our daily behavior and surroundings. We need to regress to a more childlike way of observing the world.
Throughout the ages, culture and knowledge have always gone hand in hand. The fine arts, like art, literature and music, transmit knowledge through space and time. The varied works of Leonardo Da Vinci, which spanned a wide number of fields from art to technology and back again, have continue to inspire the work of many inventors centuries after their death.
More recently, urban artists like the Russian group Voina and the widely acclaimed Bansky use their art (i.e. culture) as a form of social and political protest. The latter group, Bansky, synthesizes and visualizes issues like urban pollution, encroachments on civil liberties and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both groups aim to provoke social and political debates among the general public.
Culture, thus, influences the way we acquire knowledge. Cultural traditions are a representation of our way of seeing and interpreting our world, and are often at the heart of creativity and innovation. In the same way, the advances made in the scientific and technological realms also change the way we understand our world. One example is science fiction, where science is inspired by literature, and vice versa. This dialogue is impossible to separate.
The influence of literature, television and movies
“Beam me up, Scotty”, the infamous line from Star Trek, is one of the most famous science fiction quotes of all time, but, alas, we are still unable to teletransport a person being from point A to point B. Michael Crichton later attempted teletransportation in his novel Timeline, but the idea, which worked like a fax machine, proved unreliable even in the story.
Many other stories have served as inspiration for scientists and technologists. The writer Jules Verne wrote From Earth to the Moon almost a century before the modern day Space Race and Twenty Thousand Leagues below the Sea was published in 1870, 18 years before Isaac Peral designed the first electric-powered submarine.
And, back aboard the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek contains a myriad of examples of inventions which seem to have jumped out of the science fiction realm and straight into our hands. The electronic engineer widely considered as the father of the mobile phone, Martin Cooper, found inspiration for this ubiquitous, modern-day communication tool in Captain Kirk´s handheld communicator; Apple admitted that its iPad has much in common with the series´ Personal Access Data Devices (PAAD); and Google has also credited Star Trek as the inspiration for a universal translator.
Culture, in the broadest sense, envelops us and many of the clearest expressions of our culture found in art and fiction are underpinned in large part by our day-to-day experiences. Culture is ever-present if you look closely enough to see it.
“The advances made in the scientific and technological realms also change the way we understand our world”
The Dualism of Culture and Knowledge
Kit, I need you!
Michael Knight and Kit: Knight Rider is partly responsible, along with Star Trek and the Dick Tracy comic strip, for the concept of the wristband communicator. “Smart watches” and especially personal assistants like Siri are gaining traction, thanks to connections to health monitoring apps, home automation systems and personal calendars, and only need a small push to reach the mainstream.
You sit down in front of the TV to watch your favorite series and suddenly: Bazinga! This catch phrase coined by the character Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory to tease others inspired the scientist from Iowa State University (US) Na Hyun to create a new material by combining barium, zinc and galium. So far, no applications have been identified for this new chemical structure but, who knows, the next futuristic material might be based on Walter White´s meth lab or the crazy ideas laid out in Scorpion.
Stop! Take a moment to look around you. The streets of many cities are brimming with culture. The East End neighborhood in London (United Kingdom), the works of Bansky and the fleeting art proposed during Nuit Blanche (All-Nighter in English) are all examples of manifestations of street art and culture. Paintings, sculptures, architecture, street performers all share the ability to capture the attention of careful observers, inspire them and breed creativity.
A man is known by the company he keeps…whether Spanish, Japanese or Swedish, the culture of each country also influences the way a person adapts to new situations. Cultures which value creativity are more prone to entrepreneurship. Asian cultures, on the other hand, which associate failure with honor, face a higher entry barrier. But although this conditioning prevails today, culture is static. Music, art and gastronomy intertwine to enrich and reshape each culture´s world view.
Join the green movement. Tourism, design, food, beauty and personal care products…support and promotion of sustainable development and ecologically-friendly products and services has leapfrogged from small, social movements to large corporations and public institutions. We no longer speak of “green culture”, but rather “green economy” and “green” employment. Industry is adopting the concept – which is spawning new lines of research and corporate cultures – as are people at the individual level. Thanks to this widespread cultural adoption, the world is working towards a more sustainable planet.
By María C. Sánchez