Kim H. Veltman

Why Culture is Important
Original Lecture: “Computers and the Importance of Culture”

International Institute of Communications Conference, Sydney, September 1997.
Published: Informatik Forum, Vienna, August 1998, Band 12, Nr. 2, pp. 76-82.


Culture is concerned with the development of coherent viewpoints which bring a cumulative effect to otherwise isolated experiences of a group, making them feel special yet allowing others to have a parallel experience. Hence an Italian’s culture links them with Dante and Petrarch, and yet they can respect an Indian’s culture which links them with the Vedas and the Mahabharata.

Telecommunications have produced two roles for users: one, where they actively share information (telephones), which increases their viewpoints; and another where they are reduced to passive users of information broadcast by others (radio and television), which reduces viewpoints. Convergence could make the broadcast metaphor dominant. Culture is vital, as a source for continued multiple viewpoints, so that the quest for universal standards sees continued individual expression and uniqueness.

1. Abstract
2. Definitions of Culture
3. National Culture and International Dimensions
4. Visible Culture
5. Uniqueness
6. Invisible Culture
7. Collective Memory
8. Conclusions

1) Introduction

To understand the importance of culture in the context of new technologies, it is important to examine current definitions thereof. Most of these definitions are too narrow. First, sociologists and media theorists have focussed on mass media aspects of popular culture. Some have even claimed that technology in itself is value-free. As a result debates have often been limited to whether (or not) technology plays a role in culture. Second, the institutions in which culture is shown, such as museums, galleries and theatres remain the products of highly specialised, nationalistic definitions of culture.

This essay begins from the premise that technology offers enormous new insights into culture although it also poses many threats. It explores a wider international view of culture, surveys visible culture, the role of uniqueness, invisible culture and collective memory, concluding that we need a deeper understanding of the term in order to have culture affect technology as much as the converse.

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