Tag Archives: culture

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Why Geeks Support Barack Obama

ObamaI just donated $25 to Barack Obama. Much like many other geeks before me. Obama is clearly the choice of the country’s programmers, researchers, and other eggheads. Why?

Despite the explosion of baby name voting posts, I usually write about more technical topics on this blog. I’m very interested in the intersection of technology and society, and use of the internet in social interaction. So I think it’s fair to talk about that other vote that’s going on right now, the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

As I said before, Obama is clearly the choice of the geek constituency. Don’t believe me? Here’s a graph of individual campaign contributions by employees at five large, notoriously geeky tech companies, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon:

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Joel Swerdlow – 1 Billion Cokes a Day: World Culture at the Millennium

Swerdlow’s lecture opened with an interesting anecdote-right now, there are six billion people on the planet.  Somehow Coca-Cola calculates that these 6 billion consume 37 billion drinks a day.  Coke sells 1 billion Cokes a day, and their stated corporate goal is to get the other 36.

Creepy?  I think so.  Swerdlow presented six points about the state of the world as of the end of the second millenium:

  • Human population-doubled since World War II;
  • Destruction of biodiversity-99 percent of all species are dead, and though nature killed most, humans are now perpetrating one of the largest mass extinctions ever;
  • The physical earth-global warming, destruction of ozone, etc;
  • Exploration-we’ve been to most of the earth’s surface, but sea and space remain;
  • Science-advancing faster than ever;
  • Culture-90 percent of languages spoken now will not be spoken by the end of the next century-but so what?

Therefore he presents four questions:

What is culture?  It’s the behaviors, facts, patters, etc. that people pass on.  National Geographic decided to look at the largest/most important cities at the years 1, 1000 and 2000 A. D.-Alexandria, Cordoba and New York respectively.  In the first millennium, there was one main new idea changing world culture-monotheism.  In the second, Swerdlow sees two: modern science and human equality.  More specifically, there are four important, overarching changes going on right now:

1.  The end of the remote.  The U. N. estimates that only 1/18 of the world’s population are in indigenous cultures.  The Nazi’s had a plan to stop the mixing and migration of people from different cultures, but they never got a chance to implement it.  They would have laid out zones in which no one would be allowed in or out.

On the other hand, there are medicines known to so-called primitive cultures that science has yet to discover.  So what makes a culture primitive?

2.  The growth of cities.  Swerdlow said that when his father was born in North Dakota, only two percent of the population lived in cities, but now 50 percent do.   China, he said, has 100-200 million rural people in cities looking for work.  Cities are a human invention and most of what we call culture comes from them.  Other human ideas that have been picked up by some cultures and not others include the wheel, spaces between words and even reading silently.  So why do dome ideas catch on?

3.  Modern science.  Why did modern science arrive in Europe in the 1600s-1800s and not elsewhere?  In the 1400s China had a fleet of treasure ships four times longer than Columbus’ ships, but turned away from the outside world.  So is technology resistible?

Swerdlow could only think of three cases where it has been.  First, of course, is the Chinese turn away from navigation.  Not only did the government stop building boats, but people were forbidden to and books were burned.  Second, guns were introduced in Japan in the 1500s and by 1600 they had the most sophisticated guns in the world.  They decided the weapons were too dangerous and gave them up.  Finally, water separated Tasmania from Australia about 10,000 years ago, but by the time Europeans arrived in the 1700s the Tasmanians had given up even stone tools.

4.  The spread of American culture.  According to Swerdlow, this is one of the first times in history a culture has spread so quickly without troops.  He was in a rural area near Calcutta during a harvest festival.  Elsewhere the movie Titanic was playing, and though the festival drew more people, it wouldn’t be that way for long.  So what does it mean that American culture is spreading?

Swerdlow could find one theme that may be driving the spread of American culture-equality.

The first thing I did to find further info was check out the National Geographic site.