The Importance of Culture
Posted by mollynolte
The grand focus in Chapters 6-9 in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010) was culture and considering audiences. Culture is a very tricky subject to pin down and agree on, but I’ve always enjoyed discussing culture and what exactly that means.
As a foreign language student, I’ve had the opportunity to not only learn how to speak a second language, but I have also learned a lot about respecting other cultures and ways of life. I’m competent in German, and throughout the many years since I began learning the language, I feel as though I’ve learned just as much about German culture. It’s also been fascinating to me what is considered appropriate in one culture and offensive to others. For example, certain American hand gestures are considered fine for us–like the peace sign and thumbs up–but in other cultures they can mean something completely different. The peace sign for Japanese people is the Victory symbol. For Americans, thumbs up usually means that something is “good.” In other cultures, it means something more along the lines of “up yours.” In India and other Asian countries, eating is always done with the right hand and never with the left because the left hand is used for personal hygiene purposes. In Germany, it’s considered extremely rude to show the person the bottom of your shoe (also equated with “up yours” more or less). Additionally, tipping a server in Germany is strictly verboten whereas in America stiffing your waiter or waitress is considered very rude. While I was studying in Italy in 2010, I learned it perfectly culturally acceptable to imbibe whisky or other spirits in your morning espresso. And business or academic meetings, even ones that occur at 9 a.m., often involve sharing a very strong drink of grappa before the talking starts. One of the biggest discrepancies between Italian and American culture is the concept of time. It only took me one day to learn that Italians are much less strict when it comes to punctuality. My guide told me he would pick me up for dinner at 9 p.m., which is around the time Italians eat dinner, but didn’t show up until nearly ten. Classes started at 9 in the morning, but many of the teachers wouldn’t even show up until 9:30 or after and students would trickle in and out whenever. Siesta is also largely practiced which includes having a long, leisurely lunch midday many times with wine and a long break before heading back to the office, school, wherever. A practice I happen to have adored. American business people would not be appreciative of business partners being almost an hour late and taking a two hour lunch, but in some cultures that’s just the way things are done.
What I’m getting at is that culture, even electronic culture, should be considered and respected just like it should be if one were to travel to a foreign country or enter the home of someone from a different background. But the problem lies in that our digital culture is still being built and defined. As technology itself and the many modes of communication that we use shift and change so does the overall culture. In an allusion to not only digital culture but also to culture at its core, Bernadette Longo explains that “Communicators make choices that effect [sic] social relationships; the more aware we can be of the cultural implications of those choices, the wider the range of consequences we can see” (p. 156). I believe Longo’s implication in this statement is important for everyone to consider rather than just communication students.
It’s important to continue to consider culture not only as a human race but digitally for those of us who might work interculturally in the future. Barry Thatcher explains the difficulty in digital communication in regards to the differences between American and Mexican culture. According to Thatcher, the system they used “work[ed] well in the United States because of its values of individualism, universalism, and specific orientation. This cycle, however, did not work well in Mexico, which tends to have more hierarchical and interpersonal values, thus implying different uses of digital technologies” (p. 171). Normally, when we think about traveling internationally, we think about language barriers, being able to get around, understanding their currency, and being able to ask where the bathroom is, but we now also have to consider protecting social relationships based on daily cultural life for the locals, whomever they may be, and how their culture is different not only from ours physically but digitally as well.
As an aside: I got a Facebook this week. THIS IS A SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC EXPERIMENT.
About mollynolteMSTPC grad student scheduled to graduate in May 2017. Lover of the outdoors, my dogs, autumn, yoga, and travel.
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