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?
Related questions: Are we too busy? How can we maintain wonder? How do you adopt new ideas? What social media platforms do you use?
2 thoughts on “How Do You Maintain Cultural Literacy?”
I try to maintain cultural relevance with regard to music. While I steer clear of most pop music, I want to stay minimally informed about what’s considered good within the genres of alternative rock, alt and outlaw country, bluegrass, and folk. I also keep up-to-date on what’s being released by some bands that are still relevant today, even though they are most known as classic rock or classic alternative bands.
To that end, I frequently check websites like Pitchfork.com and Metacritic.com for what are some of the most highly-reviewed new albums. I also regularly visit alternative radio station websites to view live, in-studio performances of musicians promoting their latest tunes. Finally, I use Apple Music to see what’s been curated for me based on my highly rated and played songs.
I mostly am aware of things that float up to Reddit from other places, such as music, movies, and trending Tiktok and other social media, plus certain categories of news. Thankfully, that’s just a small subset of what-all is out there. My musical tastes have never been in the “pop” category, so the fact that I don’t know those songs is not new, though I at least have heard some of the names.
I have also always read The Atlantic, which covers a wide range of cultural phenomena, and Slashdot keeps me posted on tech news (and other slightly-connected issues).
In fact, I think I’m more informed of cultural happenings than I was growing up without Te Interwebs. But as stated at the top, there’s a whole lot more to BE aware of now, so proportionally, it may be about the same.
Mentoring a High School robotics team exposes me to at least some of what that generation considers relevant, as well. Though “nerdy” kids aren’t representative of wider pop culture any more now than they were 50 years ago.