Living At The Cultural And Technological Crossroad

Even though two people speak the same language, having come from different cultures, their understanding of the spoken language will be different.

23/02/2017 04:55 SAST | Updated 23/02/2017 04:55 SAST

An American, a Frenchman and a Chinese, all owners of smartphones, found themselves at a social event. What happened in this 21st century locked room mystery? What are the consequences of bringing together folks from different cultural backgrounds in today's modern times?

It happened to me, in South Africa, the "Rainbow Country" with 11 official languages where people from numerous cultural backgrounds live together in harmony and peace. Thirty percent of those present used their smartphones throughout the evening to message, surf the web or play games. I doubt they were texting each other across the room... Why would these educated individuals ignore all rules of social mobile etiquette? I believe there are two theories behind this situation.

1. The intercultural theory

Lost in translation; when people coming from different cultural backgrounds and for whom English is not their mother tongue listen to an English sentence each one will perceive and will relate to it in a different way; the information carried being filtered through the listener's own cultural background. Fact: statistics show that out of 7 billion people in the world 21.4 percent, speak English, of whom only 5.36 percent, are native speakers. For the rest of the 19 percent English speakers, this is not their first language.

Culture as an air bubble: We all share ideas, beliefs and traditions to some extent. What differentiates an individual from the next are our national, ethnic, self, through which we filter the outside world to eventually understand it and interpret it.

Even though two people speak the same language, having come from different cultures with different mother tongues, their perceptions and understanding of the spoken language will be different.

Patricia Furstenberg

A look at culture as our own air bubble.

Time as it is viewed by different cultures. Internationally renowned linguist Richard Lewis explains how different cultures understand time. Some associate time with "money", we say time can be spent, saved or invested. Time is an abstract commodity valued by what one can do with it before it runs out. Hurry, it ticks.

Think of Italians, Portuguese or Turks. For them, whom you share your time with is more important. Time is a personal commodity valued by how one is enjoying. Relax, it pulses.

For Asians, time goes around in a circle. Time must be observed before deciding which tasks are the important ones. Think & meditate, it hums.

Tell me where you're from and I'll tell you what your time is worth:

Patricia Furstenberg

2. Looking at the technological theory: living in the über-connected 21st century

Globally, in one second: there are 7,368 Tweets sent, 56,616 Google searches, 132,753 YouTube videos watched and 252,9486 emails sent.

Putting things into perspective as opposed to living them. Each generation's digital inclination will translate into a greater easiness for the following one in the use of digital technology as a learning tool. Nowadays our neophilia, our need for novelty, is right at our fingertips, rewarding in its promptitude but also exhaustingly hyper-stimulating.

It is normal for the human race to crave rewards, it fuels progress. Humans have a physical need to experience rewards because they release dopamine, a neural chemical, in our brains. We feel good and as a result we want to repeat the behaviour. Drugs or other activities which produce instant pleasure, like over-texting, hijack this pathway, becoming addictive.

Today's younger generation is fully immersed in social media and technology. But they are also the first generation to suffer a decline in face-to-face communication, disconnected from real life, because they are connected to an electronic device. A generation of faces lit in the dark only by the screen of a cell phone, the "glow kids" as Dr Nicholas Kardaras calls them. The young generation is at risk of becoming a generation of "glow kids" with social skills in decline. It is a mobile-social generation on the rise, but with a worrying decline in social skills.

The mobile phone relationship: are you ready to go steady? Are you holding it right now, your cell phone? Cell phones are hugely utile and they give us freedom, but at the same time they enslave us. Our mobile phone's constant availability is no longer an advantage but a social expectation as our contacts assume we're at their disposal 24/7 and, to be honest, so do we of them. No wonder a mobile phone has more germs on it than a toilet seat.

We are programmed to depend on our mobile devices. What are the chances of you landing a good job or making an emergency phone call without owning a cell phone?

Dunbar thinks that a person can have 150 acquaintances, but only 5 close relationships. It is more difficult, although more significant to have fewer close relationships then lots of online followers.

Are you addicted to your smartphone? How brave are you? Take the self-assessment test.

How to overcome the cultural distance

  • Actively, by willingly trying to understand in what this difference consists.
  • Emotionally, by choosing to overcome stereotypes.
  • Academically, by choosing to be present in the moment.

British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar is the author of How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Dunbar thinks that a person can have a 150 acquaintances, but only 5 close relationships. It is more difficult, although more significant to have fewer close relationships then lots of online followers.

Dunbar explains that "Words are slippery; a touch is worth a 1,000 words any day." Why? The mammal's skin has a huge amount of neurons that respond to light touch only. Light stroking triggers endorphins, also responsible for our happiness by reducing pain and stress. The same goes for other mammals like dolphins and primates.

Sadly, as yet, social media does not include touch therefore it is not real human bonding. Okay, you don't have to hug your boss, yet everybody's doing it. You are an individual. Remember what your Mama always said: "If your friends jump off a cliff, would you jump too?!" The way forward is by retracing the steps of history, learning from mistakes and bettering ourselves.