Maria Popova linked to this wonderful quote from Susan Sontag today on the divide between “high” and “low” cultures:
If I had to choose between the Doors and Dostoyevsky, then — of course — I’d choose Dostoyevsky, but do I have to choose? … Happenings did not make me care less about Aristotle and Shakespeare. I was — I am — for a pluralistic, polymorphous culture.
She then compared this to Greil Marcus’s 2013 SVA commencement speech on the same topic:
I’ve always believed that the divisions between high art and low art, between high culture, which really ought to be called “sanctified culture,” and what’s sometimes called popular culture, but really ought to be called “everyday culture” — the culture of anyone’s everyday life, the music I listen to, the movies you see, the advertisements that infuriate us and that sometimes we find so thrilling, so moving — I’ve always believed that these divisions are false. And, as a result of trying to make that argument over the years, I’ve also come to believe that these divisions are permanent — they can be denied, but they can never go away.
This makes me think about Jesse Thorn’s fantastic NPR show Bullseye. In one episode, Thorn can go from talking about his favorite poem to recommending a video game to interviewing a guest about old movies or comic books. This is something I’ve thought about a lot—this division between high brow and low brow art. In my own life, I’ve wanted to erase that divide in the art I consume, hoping to seamlessly jump between them, giving them both equal importance.
I used to refer to my love of pop music as a guilty pleasure, going from listening to jazz to Katy Perry or Taylor Swift in a day can feel schizophrenic and jarring. But then I realized that these divisions are created by culture—there are no guilty pleasures. If you like something, why feel guilty about it? Maybe the differences between high and low cultures are the same—simply false divisions put upon us.
The stream of art in our culture is deep and wide and there is plenty of love to spread out. To echo Sontag, liking Katy Perry or Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t mean I like Miles Davis or Kurt Vonnegut less. You don’t have to make those divisions.
Company culture as interaction design
"Artificial cultures are instant. They’re big bangs made of mission statements, declarations, and rules. They are obvious, ugly, and plastic. Artificial culture is paint.
Real cultures are built over time. They’re the result of action, reaction, and truth. They are nuanced, beautiful, and authentic. Real culture is patina.”
—Jason Fried, You don’t create a culture
I’ve been thinking about office culture a lot lately—how to develop it, how to foster it, and how to create it. I’ve long felt that a lot of company cultures feel fake—that if a culture is mandated or initiated from the top they are actually inauthentic within the company.
I’ve started to think about culture in the same way I think about interaction design. And like interaction design, culture is not static, it is ever-changing and always moving. Companies are built by teams which are built by departments which are people by people and each new employee adds a layer to the culture and they bring their own perspectives, insights, and backgrounds into the fold.
A principle I return to often in thinking about interaction design is the idea of frameworks and platforms. Designing frameworks means the designer has the first word, not the last. It means the designer gets to start the conversation but leaves room for improvisation and for others to add and contribute.
Real culture isn’t rigid and can’t be mandated. You can start the conversation, but each employee brings their own experiences to the table. Each new employee, each new voice will change your company culture in a small way and that’s okay. That’s good! Trying to enforce a particular company culture will be fake and leave employees disconnected from their work. All you can do is add your contribution and create space for the culture to move and grow and evolve and patina.
What Your Culture really says
When Culture Turns into Policy
Top 10 of 2010
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2010
(Wow! What a year for music! It was very hard to narrow down this list.)
- Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons
- The Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens
- Winter of Mixed Drinks - Frightened Rabbit
- Go - Jonsi
- Born Again - Newsboys
- The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
- Contra - Vampire Weekend
- All Day - Girl Talk
- Happiness - Hurts
Honorable Mentions: The Way Off - The Books, Disappearing World - Fair, Of Men and Angels - The Rocket Summer, Volume II - She & Him, LOVE - Angels and Airways, All Delighted People EP - Sufjan Stevens, Dark is the Way, Light is a Place - Anberlin, Write About Love - Belle & Sebastian, Brothers - The Black Keys, The Medicine - John Mark McMillan
TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2010
- The Social Network
- Toy Story 3
- Exit Through the Giftshop
- Crazy Heart
- Shutter Island
- Sherlock Holmes
- The Art of the Steal
- The Switch
- Robin Hood
Honorable Mentions: Alice in Wonderland, Date Night
TOP 10 BOOKS READ IN 2010
(I don’t read enough new books each year, so these are my favorite books I read in 2010 as opposed to books that released in 2010.)
- Lust for Life - Irving Stone
- East of Eden - John Steinbeck
- Proust Was A Neuroscientist - Jonah Lehrer
- Conversations with Woody Allen - Eric Lax
- The Sabbath - Abraham Joshua Heshel
- Linchpin - Seth Godin
- The Anthologist - Nicholson Baker
- How (Not) To Speak of God - Peter Rollins
- Art & Physics - Leonard Shlain
- Studio Culture - Adrian Shaughnessy
Honorable Mentions: Look Both Ways - Debbie Millman, What The Dog Saw - Malcolm Gladwell, Slapstick - Kurt Vonnegut, The Meaning of Jesus - Marcus Borg & N.T. Wright