Technology: The Substance of Culture

Can you imagine a world without things? It’s not possible—people of all cultures are makers.

We are familiar with the proliferation of fascinating devices that characterise the recent ‘technological revolution’ but did you know that all cultures produce technology? Before the word ‘technology’ underwent an unofficial redefinition in the digital age, it simply meant the manufacture of things.

Whether they are simply utilitarian devices or objects with great artistic value, artefacts offer a window into the beliefs and practices of the societies that use them. They are a tool for the appreciation and understanding of other cultures.

But what do things mean? What purpose do they serve? The meaning of artefacts is significantly affected by their context, and objects placed in different contexts can take on quite different meanings. This is increasingly evident in our ‘global village’ where the adoption of goods by different cultures is an ever increasing feature. The ubiquitous mobile phone, for example, means one thing to a teenager looking at social media, another to a businessman talking to a client, and something different again to an African farmer accessing a weather report.

Objects sometimes have spiritual significance and are used during worship or ritual. They can be imbued with meaning that the unfamiliar observer does not comprehend. For those engaged in cross-cultural ministries, knowledge of the meaning of artefacts within their cultural context can be of vital importance. The relationship of technology to culture is explored in our course Reading Cultures.

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Dr. Rosemary Knight

Author Dr. Rosemary Knight

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