In our fractured, constantly updating society, trends and fashions change at a mind-boggling rate. How do you maintain cultural literacy, and stay on top of it all?
Hundreds of years ago, very little would change from one generation to the next. Your life was probably very similar to the life lived by your parents, and their life was largely the same as their parents. And your children’s lives would look much the same as yours.
Now, however, that is not the case. Someone born in 1900, if they lived long enough, would have been alive for the first airplane flight and also the first trip to the moon.
Fifty years ago, there was no Internet, no cell phones, the number of television stations could be counted on one hand, and so on. As technology changes, our lives change as well. And the rate of change is accelerating.
Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘Are we too busy?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What are our responsibilities to others?’
In concrete terms, this means that there is an ever-increasing amount of cultural information to track. Older generations had to keep track of actors, known from theater, TV and movies. But now, there are also people famous just for being famous. In addition, there are celebrities that are “Internet famous” — that is, they have popular YouTube channels, are Instagram influencers, or are known for their Tik Tok dances.
The same thing is true all throughout culture. In addition to traditional authors and reporters, there are now bloggers and cable news pundits. More traditional sports figures have been joined by video gamers and esoteric competitions like marble racing. Whatever niche interest you have almost certainly has a website or wiki page with details and further information.
There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with it all.
So how, then, can you learn enough about these things that you can have a reasonable conversation about them should the need arise? Or be able to recognize the benefits that might be available to you, or understand the potential risks or challenges they might pose to society in general? In short, how do you maintain cultural literacy?