They say that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. While this may or may not be true, our individual relationships are both a reflection of our cultural associations, and they also continually reinforce the cultural circles we live in. There is a lot of attention these days on centralised control, government power, big corporations and how their decisions impact our lives. But there is an equally powerful force in our lives based on one-to-one connections that create interconnectedness. Culture.
Culture can include so many things — from our nationality or spiritual group, to what foods we eat (vegan culture for instance), to technologies such as mobile phones. And unlike the top-down approach of control and influence that can seem more obvious, culture spreads through one-to-one connections between individuals.
Who is the king of the ants? Seth Godin asked in his blog this week. The answer is – there is none. Ant colonies don’t function through as system of centralised control (as we might think of chimpanzees with alpha males in charge). Rather decisions on where to build roads between the colony and food source, what to do when this route must change, how to repair a destroyed nest…all of these decisions occur through what we might think of as ‘cultural decision making’ based on pheromone exchange between individual ants. (For more check out this cool article by Deborah M Gordon Local Links Run the World)
This kind of connection makes ants and other such cultural groups very resilient.
The internet, for instance, isn’t powerful because it is so big. It’s powerful because of the sheer number of individual connections any of us can make when we use it.
So what does this mean for us as individuals who exist within a multiplicity of cultural circles? What influence does culture have on us — our habits, preferences and actions? To what extent can we influence the cultural group we are in, or simply shift to a different group when we feel a need to move on?
This week we enjoyed a winding conversation about how individual connections spread cultural norms, and how different cultural groups shape our lives.
In this episode:
- what is culture
- ant culture and the power of having many one-to-one connections
- the influence of who we are connected to
- mobile phone culture
- social learning
- Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of culture in Distinction
Hope you enjoy your contemplation this week!