Cultural feedback loops

January, 2010

I think that one of the most fascinating things about the age we live in right now is the increasing connectivity between people across divides that have historically been prohibitive to the spread of ideas and culture. Things like physical distance, oceans, languages, wealth, and so on are more and more being overcome by technology and the spread of information. Friedman refers refers to this as the flattening of the world, and I think we are just of the very edge of this phenomena.

What I’m interested in however, is how I see the direction of culture creation starting to reverse. Here is what I mean by that: As a high school and college kid (which wasn’t all that long ago for me), culture was very much distributed from the top down. Movies, music artists, TV shows and especially things like SNL shaped daily culture directly. From fashion and styles, to fad words, to generationally shared sitcom memories (‘re-runs all become our history’), culture was handed down from on high. This is not to say that there isn’t or wasn’t local culture on it’s own - but the flattening of the world culture, the kinds of things you might have in common with someone from anywhere in America or even overseas was handed down to us. Today, the story is very different. That locally created culture can now be broadcast and shared to people all over the world. Those people who are truly creators, artists and innovators don’t need a lot of money and a broadcast channel to share their work anymore. The best example I can give of a culture creation reversal comes from a You Tube video of this entire wedding party dancing down the aisle. This same scene was then re-created in the season finale of the Office for Jim and Pam’s wedding. It used to be that we all mimicked SNL skits, now sitcoms are mimicking us.

Tim's Avatar Hi, I'm Tim Clem. I'm an engineer at GitHub in San Francisco, currently focused on applied programming language theory.