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发布者: 五毒 | 发布时间: 2022-9-16 23:30| 查看数: 108| 评论数: 0|

I am incredibly excited to be here today. Because I want to tell you about an idea that's shaped the way that I look at the world, and I think that anyone can use to look at your own world, whether you're working in finance, business, journalism or just looking around your everyday life at things like face masks, dogs, chocolate, really. And the idea comes from the world of cultural anthropology. Now I know, to many of you that might sound pretty weird.


But I'm talking to you because my own life story has been bound up with that. Today, as you see me, I am a journalist. I live in New York. I work with the Financial Times. And I spend much of my life talking to people who work in the world of business, finance, technology, etc. That's my kind of world today. Excuse the rather bad hairstyle. But I didn't start out like that. I actually started out, before I became a journalist, as a cultural anthropologist, looking like this. I did fieldwork, as we call it, in Soviet Tajikistan, on the borders of Afghanistan.


Now, what cultural anthropology does is try to study human culture, all the assumptions that we inherit from our surroundings. And we don't often think about but which shape us deeply in terms of how we think, live and act. And anthropologists do this in two distinctive ways. Firstly, they believe in getting out and getting our feet dirty, and trying to participate in people's lives to understand them. Which is why I'm wearing Tajik clothes on the border of Tajikistan, where I was living.


But also, they believe in not just studying cultures that we already know that are familiar but cultures which are unfamiliar. That can be on the other side of the world. It can be down the end of the street, a different profession, or, shock horror, a different political party. And anthropologists do this for two reasons. Firstly, understanding people who have a different point of view to you is very helpful for making sense of the world. Duh. It's something we ought to all know. But actually, it's very easy to forget today.


But secondly, empathizing with another way of looking at the world can help you to understand yourself better as well. And the reason is that there's a wonderful proverb which says: A fish can't see water. A fish can't see water. None of us can see the assumptions that shape us unless we jump out of our fish bowl, go to somewhere completely different, talk to other fish, and then look back at ourselves to try and understand the assumptions that shape us. In my case, I did that by going to Soviet Tajikistan.


But later on, I used that perspective of jumping out of my fishbowl to look back at my own world, where I now work as a journalist, to look at the world of finance, to look at the world of business, to try and look at it with fresh eyes and to see not just the parts of the world that are obvious but the parts of the world that we don't often talk about, the social silences. Now I used that framework to help me predict the great financial crisis in 2008. In particular, I spent much of the years before that going to investment banking conferences, which are gigantic ceremonial rituals, which are rather similar to Tajik weddings. It's true.


They pull people together, the scattered tribe, they reaffirm their social ties. And they reaffirm a shared worldview through rituals, not through dancing, but through hanging out by the bar and having PowerPoints. Same function. But I did that in the world of high finance. But what I want to make you think about today is that you don't have to be using these tools in Tajikistan or Tokyo or Wall Street. You can actually use them to look around your own world today. Your everyday life.


You can use them to look at something which is completely different from either Wall Street or Tajikistan. The world of dogs. This is my dog, Charlie. Adorable, smelly, out of control. And when people ask me about my dog, I often say: Charlie, she's part of my family. I bet many of you who have dogs will say exactly the same thing. But here's something to think about. If you are in America or Europe, you think it's kind of normal to say that your dog is part of your family. I can tell you, though, that if you're sitting in Tajikistan or most other cultures which are non-Western, saying that a dog is part of your family makes you look really weird. If not exotic.


Because the reality is that in many cultures throughout history, animals have been defined in opposition to humans. Dogs lived out in the fields or live out in the fields or the yard. They might come in the house. They didn't come into the bedroom. And they certainly didn't come into the bed. Charlie's not supposed to be in my bed, but, hey. And the thing to think about that was interesting is this. What is different in these different contexts isn't necessarily the dog. It's our idea of family. Many non-Western cultures have an idea that a family is something that is imposed on you.


And it's pretty non-negotiable. In the West, we have this wonderful, individualistic consumer culture where everything is pick-and-mix and customized. We customize our coffee choice. We have our music playlists. We get to define our families. And that's liberating. It's also sometimes quite nerve-wracking. And what it means is that people say: Well, if I want to put a dog in my family, I'm going to put a dog. It also means that people use dogs to define and create families as an active choice.


And what is interesting is that the issue at stake here is not about the human and the dog relationship, let alone your dog versus dog relationship, it's humans to humans. And that's something you need to think about if say, you're in the business of selling dog food or you just want to get a dog. And it's something very hard to see unless you jump out of your fishbowl. Or for another example, think about cell phones. I spent a lot of time with my teenagers worrying about why they can't get off their cell phone.


And the normal way that people talk about that is to say, well, they're addicted to cell phones. Because guess what, it's those algorithms, screen time is a technology. But an anthropologist called Danah Boyd went out a few years ago and tried to look at teenagers in the wild with their cell phones, and realized that when you observe teenagers with this kind of broad anthropological perspective, when you try and look with a worm's eye view, not a bird's eye view, actually, there's something about teenagers that's quite remarkable.


Which is that 50, 100 years ago, teenagers were physically roaming in the world a lot. They were on their bikes. They were walking around the streets. They were congregating in fields. They could explore the world, test boundaries, essentially, have adventures without parents watching. Today, in many American contexts they can't. Nevermind lockdown, even before that, because of stranger danger, because of overscheduling, the only place they could roam without parents watching was in cyberspace with their cell phones.


So is it any surprise that teenagers love their cell phones? If you want to change behavior, you can't just look at the phone, the noise, you have to look at the physical experience, the silence too. And again, that's hard to see if you just know one fishbowl. Another example. What is sitting at the end of your noses right now or hopefully, called your face mask. In the last two years, we've heard a lot about how face masks stop germs through that physical fabric. But they're cultural signaling devices, too.


They send messages to your own brain to remind you to change behavior, to each other, to show whether you respect science, whether you are upholding community norms. And although doctors don't often talk about that cultural aspect, we need to. Because one thing we've learned, is you can't stop a pandemic just with medical science or computer science, you need to think about social science and behavior. And behavior could change. Because there's another thing about those face masks, which is that effectively they have shown how culture can change.


We weren't wearing them two years ago. And culture can change in all kinds of surprising ways. Culture isn't a box with rigid, static sides. It's more like a river that flows. And if you want to understand that, think about one last issue, which is chocolate. Hurray. Kit Kats started life a century ago as a British brown biscuit. It then went around the world as an export, turned up in Japan, and some local Japanese teenagers, about 20 years ago, started using Kit Kats as good-luck tokens for exams. And then they started adding in Japanese flavors like soy sauce, wasabi, green tea.


And then it became a Japanese biscuit and a Japanese souvenir and then was sold back into Britain, where today you can buy green tea Kit Kats. And they're actually made in Germany. So today a Kit Kat is British and Swiss. Because Nestle owns it, and Japanese and German. Culture is a river. It changes. New streams come in. And that is fantastic. And that is one of the big ideas I want to leave you with last of all. Because right now as we speak, COVID-19 and the lockdown in many ways has been an extraordinary period of culture shock.It's given you all what anthropologists experience when they go to other cultures.


The chance to be jolted out of what was normal and to look at your world again. To become a stranger in your own land again. So however much you might hate that experience, however much you might be scared by that culture shock, the lesson from anthropology is this. Don't run away from culture shock. Seize it as an opportunity. Recognize that lockdown has kept us all trapped with our own tribe, physically. Our own pod. We've gone online into echo chambers. But now, more than ever, is a time when we need to jump out of our fishbowl. Go talk to other fish. Widen our lens.


Not just so that we can understand the rest of the world, which we need to. But also so that we can understand ourselves better, too. And just think of that when you see a dog, a Kit Kat bar, a face mask or your cellphone. All of them show the power of culture. Why culture matters. But why culture can change. And why, right now, we have an opportunity to rethink that. Thank you.



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