culture

Meet Daniela.

With a grade point average of 6.7, she is North Miami Senior High School’s valedictorian.

Her older brother served in the U.S. Army for two years, including a tour in Afghanistan. Then he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He served this country before it was his country.

Daniela wants to be a heart surgeon.

A federal immigration judge says she needs to leave the country, instead.

Daniela didn’t do anything wrong. She was brought to America illegally when she was only four years old. In the 14 years since, she has been the archetype of American ideals, bringing the best of her heritage into our own community and giving only her best. It costs us nothing to afford her the opportunities many of us take for granted, but instead our government chooses to reject her for being of the wrong origin.

What does Daniela have to say about this injustice?

“I consider myself an American no matter what.”

Daniela is true to herself and her country. Her country should be true to itself, too.

Link: Miami Herald

Growing Pains in the Web’s Social Revolution

I’ve observed these two things in last ten years of evolution in the “Social Web:”

  1. The Social Web has made huge changes to the way people express themselves and communicate in their daily lives, generally enhancing connections and making the world a lot smaller.
  2. That very same trend has also created more complexity from the sheer amount of information being shared through social platforms.

The actual nature of what we do in our lives hasn’t changed much; it’s just become so much more public and easily shared with the masses. In person, we can only have so much interaction, due to the limits of time and physical location.  But now technology has removed many of those barriers; we can now blast information to the masses regardless of our location or the availability of a captive, dedicated audience.

Personally, I find that these developments make it a lot harder parse all the information and isolate the stuff I find most relevant. Some of this is because people on the Social Web write for so many different audiences; one person might use Twitter to promote their business, ask people in their industry a question, post pictures of something random that happened, link to a popular meme, or just vent about what they’re feeling at the moment. (Or, God forbid, tell everyone what they had for breakfast.) To that person, it’s all self-expression of things they felt like sharing. But for the follower, it’s totally void of any personalization to deliver the content they personally care about the most. Some of my followers online are people in my industry, and some are friends or family. But they all get the entire stream, and are subject to reading whatever I decide is worth putting in their content stream.

Some of this problem can be solved by making more conscious decisions about the most relevant place to post different content online, or through the creation of more context- or audience-aware social platforms. But more than this, I think our society is just struggling to adapt to a very new kind of communication. As always, the young will find it easiest to adapt, so they will drive the changes before anyone else does.

I don’t know how things will turn out, but I’m pretty sure we’re going through a cultural revolution. A couple of decades from now, social interaction across the world will look very different, and I imagine that will also have serious implications in other spheres- especially world politics and economics.

Spain’s Blurred Cultural Divides (or how Newt Gingrich can’t even get xenophobia right)

The Alhambra, from Mirador San Nicolás

The Alhambra of Granada: Muslim Nasrid Fortress; Holy Roman Emperor Charles V's palace; Catholic churches and ex-mosques in view. Photo taken outside the Saint Nicholas church in the Albayzin "Muslim quarter" of the city.

Newt Gingrich states,

“The proposed “Cordoba House” overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.  For example, most of them don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term.  It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.” [Emphasis mine.]

I’ll overlook Gingrich’s gross overstatement of the historical facts (this excellent post by a medieval historian refutes his statements in detail) and get to the more glaring irony in his statement. Say hello to the “world’s third-largest mosque complex,” that symbolic victory over Christian Spain (which before the conquest was neither unified in religion nor statehood):

Yep, that just makes ya tremble in fear of Islamist conquerors, doesn’t it? Newt Gingrich uses Córdoba as an example of the Muslim destruction of Western or Christian culture, yet the very building in question stands today not as a mosque, but a cathedral. (Ironically, the world’s third-largest Christian complex lies a couple of hours’ drive away in Seville – a mosque converted into a cathedral after the Catholics conquered the Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus.) Continue reading

Random Cultural Observations

Some things I’ve noticed in my first month or so in Spain:

  • I didn’t realize how much of a fixed routine Americans seem to require. Everyone seems to talk about how Spaniards are good about mixing work with leisure, but I didn’t realize how subconscious it all would be. I don’t notice it so much in how Spaniards act as I do in how I act differently from them. I keep trying to establish some kind of fixed daily routine here, and I find such routines to be less helpful here than they are in the US. Aside from school, I’m pretty free to improvise on most days. Going out for tapas isn’t restricted to the weekend, and loafing around can happen whenever. Plenty of hard work can happen too, it’s not “lazier” here really, it’s just approached with a different mindset.
  • Linguistically, Spaniards exaggerate much less. (Rather, they exaggerate less.) When I speak in English, I tend to say something is very easy, very fun, much faster, etc. Here, modifiers like “much,” “more” and “very” are reserved for descriptions of truly exceptional qualities.
  • Since Spain only emerged from its nationalist dictatorship about thirty years ago, there’s a huge generational gap in attitudes here. The older set is generally more politically and socially conservative, no longer influenced by Franco but more than anything influenced by the still state-funded Catholic church. Younger generations (I’d say under 40 to 50) seem to vary more in their views; some keep their traditional values, and many others have quickly moved to a more “European” lifestyle.
    Overall, there seems to be a big cultural separation here between “traditional” and “modern” lives, and while they coexist, they seem to be pretty scared of each other as well. I haven’t been here long enough to really appreciate the nuances of it, but I’ve definitely noticed some similar deficiencies in understanding in the States as well.
  • If my professors are to believed, the 1980s were a sort of “golden age” for Spanish pop music. While I can understand the claim (huge artistic outpouring after the downfall of authoritarian dictatorship), I simply cannot accept that the 1980s was a good decade for music, anywhere. I’m a pretty understanding guy, but drum machines and cheesy synths are where I have to draw the line.