Artifacts and attitudes

There is a distinctly unproductive – sometimes, even, dangerous – tendency to promote the view that we are all the same around the world. We are assumed to have the same hopes, instincts, aspirations, fears, capabilities, potentials. We are all, it is argued, prompted to action by the same concerns, responsive to the same incentives, alerted to the same insights by the same social and environmental cues.

Indeed, in many ways it can be argued that the United States is proof of this. It is composed, after all, of immigrants from every physical and cultural corner of the world. If we in the States can, after a fashion at least, communicate and get along, why can’t we all internationally?

But as discussed in another post on the Managing Leadership Blog, artifacts produced by one culture are not necessarily easily comprehended – or even used – in another. Often, the very proclivity to perceive a problem, not to mention a solution, is a societal characteristic unique to the producing culture – an artifact itself. At least as often, as depicted in the referenced post, the hidden nature of the artifact – its conception, production, maintenance – are themselves cultural artifacts that are so bound up with the physical one that they cannot be separated – even distinguished – from it.

Such an artifact cannot be used sustainably without the culturally unique attitudes that conceived and produced it, and that thus enable its producers to use and maintain it. Their meaning and value degrade as their distance increases culturally from their origin.

There are exceptions, of course – at least apparently. Many movies and television series do very well outside their cultural homes (although even then the way they are perceived can be surprisingly different than expected). Many consumables, from cell phones to household products – even cars – do the same.

But many don’t. Neither the artifacts (products) or attitudes about them (assumptions about their use, maintenance, and marketing) survive travel beyond their home borders. This is an important theme in management development in today’s international economy.

But it also points to a fascinating and revealing way to appreciate our cultures and ourselves, by thinking about how we use our artifacts – and how we use those not native to our own societies.

We will be looking in these pages, certainly, at artifacts in and of themselves. We often will review them simply as they are. Inevitably, however, we will also look at the meanings of the ways we regard and use them; at how and why our artifacts and our attitudes relate to each other.

Please do join in.

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