Everything becomes the same

Since human beings copy each other, and today we are quite densely networked across the globe, it is only natural that most places, things, ideas, and products… look the same.

Today, I arrived at my hotel room in a major Indian city and the view from the 10th floor struck me. It looked like any other big city in India. At that height, I could not make out the details (like the language on billboards), but the way the traffic moved, the rush, the roads, the metro lines, the buildings – looked the same as it would in any other major Indian city. You really can’t tell. (Someone observed the same about cities in the USA.)

In terms of clothing, what was normal once, has become traditional (or ethnic) now. I do have Indian clothes which I very maybe once a year. Rest of the time it’s good old denim.

Similarly for language, India has quite a few. But professional work and higher education is almost completely in English, and ‘The Times of India’, an English newspaper holds the 3rd spot in circulation.

This trend runs across the globe, across millennia. Everything is becoming similar to everything else. As noted by historian Yuval Harari in his book Sapiens:

Over the millennia, small, simple cultures gradually coalesce into bigger and more complex civilisations, so that the world contains fewer and fewer mega-cultures, each of which is bigger and more complex…. break-ups are temporary reversals in an inexorable trend towards unity.

As people copy each other, we start to look similar, talk similar, dress similar. While imitation helps in learning, at some point it gets overdone. And thus it’s inevitable that a we will lose unique cultures, practices and products.

While this is unfortunate, it opens up a tiny opportunity for designers. We can look at the cultures which might go missing, as inspiration for new products and ideas. All products of past cultures were shaped by their context, and studying this relationship can help us creating new products for new contexts.

In this way we may also salvage and preserve some of our cultural artifacts.

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