Monday, September 11, 2006

Monoculture vs Culture

Few months ago Robert Peters posted an article about Culture vs Monoculture. He talks about how identity lies at the very core of culture, and it is the key to our understanding of self. Culture encompasses language, traditions, beliefs, morals, laws, social behavior, and the art of a community. Understanding culture is imperative in avoiding identity crisis and rootlessness – and it's a prerequisite for the effective shaping of identities and communication. Yet, everywhere in our shrinking world, we can witness increased homogenization, erosion of indigenous culture, the emergence of non-places (uniform airports, generic shopping malls), and the advancement of what some theorists are calling 'serial monotony'.

Are globalization, free trade agreements, digital technology, the Internet, and increased mobility to blame? Ironically, all have contributed to both the loss of individual and collective identity, and at the same time, have literally "brought the world to our doorstep" along with the myriad of opportunities this presents for designers around the globe.

Aware of the advancing threat of monoculture, can the world's identity designers help conserve and revive those things that make human culture distinct and unique? Can we mine the historical depth of individuality and breadth of multiculturalism to bring new gems of identity to light? Is there still time to avoid losing our sense of who we are, where we've come from, where we belong, and why these distinctions are so important?

4 Comments:

Blogger marydorsey said...

Ruthy, just curious as to the source of the article. Thanks!

7:59 AM  
Blogger Ruthy said...

AIGA -Design Forum

11:27 AM  
Blogger Professor Melis said...

This piece is very thought provoking and made me think about a section in "Universal Principles of Design" by Lidwell, Holden and Butler that bothered me when I first read it. It's the section on "Attractiveness Bias: A tendency to see attractive poeple as more intelligent, competent, moral, and sociable than unattractive people." I will quote parts of the section so you can see what bothered me.

"Biologically speaking, people are attractive when they exude health and fertility. Good biological measures for health and fertility are average and symmetrical facial features, and a waist-to-hip ration in the ideal range (0.70 for women, 0.90 for men). An absence of these features is thought to be an indicator of malnutrition, disease, or bad genes; none of which are preferable attributes for a potential mate. Biological factors of attraction are innate and true across cultures. For example, in studies presenting images of attractive and unattractive people to babies (two-months-old and six-months-old), the babies looked longer at the attracitve poeple regardless of their gender, age, or race."

It goes on to state that women are influenced more by what a man earns than men are by what a woman earns and this "environmental" factor sways women more toward unnatractive men than the other way around. This factor varies considerably across cultures.

It ends by giving this advice to designers: "When the presentation of attracitve women is a key element of a design, use renderings or images of women with waist-to-hip ratios of approximately 0.70, accented by culturally appropriate augmentations of sexual features. When the presentation of attractive men is a key element of a design, use renderings or images of men with waist-to-hip ratios or approximately 0.90, and visible indicators of wealth or status (e.g., expensive clothing).

So, what this article says that bothers me is: biological studies state that we prefer attractive people. Thus,even though other studies have shown that environmental (cultural might be a better term) factors can reshape biological factors (how women perceive men's status), we should ignore the fact that so-called biology has been used to justify all sorts of racism and sexism over the years and we should ignore the fact that visual communication has tremendous potential to shape our "environment" (culture) to make us less racist and sexist. Bascially we should simply use what we feel is bound to please and not challenge the notion of why we find certain traits pleasing. But maybe I'm taking all of this too seriously. Is it wrong that people want to see beauty? Afterall, I've decorated my house with images of beautiful people and places as much as anyone else, so maybe I'm over-reacting. What do you think?

3:09 PM  
Blogger mary said...

Will Lidwell gave a presentation at the HOW Conference this summer. It was very well attended. He spoke in depth about 10 of the universal principles and this was one of them. I'll look to see if I have any notes from this, but I do remember him quizzing the crowd with the same questions/diagrams they asked the research group and how everyone was amazed at this particular principle.

2:22 PM  

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