When culture isn't shared

Yesterday Clarinette sent out a series of three tweets about the way in which we no longer are able to share culture as we used to. Mostly this is because much of our culture is locked into specific devices or user accounts.

Have you ever thought how much are devices have become ‘indivudualized’ ? Can’t share laptops, phones, iPads, eBooks or music anymore. (5:56 PM – 25 Jul 12).


Culture is becoming ‘individual’, not shared. Can’t pass in books, music, devices. Itunes music dies after death. Even picz stored online. (5:58 PM – 25 Jul 12).


Wondering what we will leave behind after death. I surely print much less picz, write very little on paper, most music is online…. (6:03 PM – 25 Jul 12).

Her comments are interesting as they illustrate the paradox that we probably have access to more cultural material than ever before but this culture is not shared between family, local community or even nationality. We do share culture – consuming is a form of sharing – but not in the same way as we did before. In many cases to share culture almost requires each sharer to have his or her own device (and of course that the cultural expression is not locked-in with DRM).

A friend of mine complained some time ago that it was not enough to buy one e-book reader for the family but each member needed to have their own device. When everyone had their own device the family’s reading habits changed – they no longer read the same book and talked about it. In one sense the sharing of culture within the family broke down.

In the long term this should also have an effect on the collected culture we leave behind (see for example Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books? and Memory in the digital age). Not to mention the amount of stuff we “lose” somewhere on old hard disks.

The increased ability to chose, the diminished ability to share and the decreased ability to leave a collection of culture to the next generation. Will this change who we are?

Family photo’s a thing of the past? My Grandfather & I

To end on a nicely paranoid note: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Chapter 3.

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