Blog Post #7: Beauty & Material Culture as an Evolutionary Concept


Throughout this semester, we’ve elaborated on how object analysis provides a window into the culture that produced it. Lava Lamps, teapots, libraries, all objects who’s metaphysical properties indicate social or cultural values, but as our studies have gone on, I’ve slowly begun to wonder: how far back do these connections go? Are there objects so broadly influential that they extend past societal or cultural ties, and are instead just humanistic? In his TED discussion, Denis Dutton states that objects of beauty fit this mold, as their evolution can be traced back throughout the course of cross-cultural human history.

On the surface, a “beautiful” thing is not easily defined. It’s typically stated that, because of it’s subjective nature, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”… or better yet, that objects we see as beautiful are due in some part to our cultural conditioning. “Paintings, movies, music, are all beautiful because cultures shape uniformity for preference of aesthetic taste”, yet beyond this there are certain objects that people worldwide have a magnetic attraction to.

I feel that this source would provide a unique concept for a class discussion as it not only aligns with previous readings, but expands on them in such a way that it provokes a great deal of thought about the creation and development of our relationship with objects. Dutton’s tie in of beautify creating desire is rather parallel with our previous discussion of how “cute” things: just as a ceramic cat evokes the same physical response as seeing a baby’s face, Dutton suggests that our concept of beauty is an evolutionary response “to encourage us toward making the most adaptive decisions for survival and reproduction”. The result is that these objects have a universal appeal, even to people who have never encountered them before.


For example, Dutton notes that around the world, we are obsessed with photos and replication of a very particular landscape: “open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees…. water directly in view…indications of animal or bird life… a path or a road, perhaps a riverbank or a shoreline, that extends into the distance.” Amazingly, this perfectly describes the savanna environments were our ancestors evolved and flourished. I won’t spoil the entire discussion, but he makes some truly astounding connections between art and evolution that I highly recommend everyone to watch.

We’ve seen that “cuteness” influences parental instincts, disgust is a defense mechanism, and beauty/desire is for survival and reproduction. So naturally, this begs the question: What other aesthetics produce psycho/physiological responses, and how has evolution shaped them as well?

Blog Post #7 : Artifacts without the Flash or Glamour

Featured in Tedx Talks, archaeologist Sada Mire discusses how cultural heritage is a basic human need. Through her experience with African culture ( in her video she primarily discusses Somalis), she explains how the women recalled ancient traditions,such as rug weaving, and hut construction passed down from generation to generation. Sada was surprised the women did not place importance on the actual tangible objects which archaeologists revered, and prized over, but the knowledge on how to construct such ‘artifacts.’ While on this archaeological expedition, when speaking to the Somalian women she discovered they did not care for the very artifacts she searched for, as they could construct their own, but they cherished the memories and experiences associated with their own version of these objects. She explains to the conference this knowledge of their cultural heritage provides future generation with the knowledge to survive in their environment, deeming cultural heritage as a basic human need.  When incorporating this source into my project I originally used it to convey the that objects gains significance and meaning through individualistic perspective. In the case of this source, individualistic changes to a culture’s perspective but the same theory applies. What I found interesting about this source is it provides an answer to why the actual tangible object is necessary. One thing I questioned Mire about was concerning her overall statement saying cultural heritage is a basic human need essentially states the oral communication of these tradition is necessary but not the actual object. She doesn’t place much emphasis on the actual artifacts and objects she discusses. Yet without the tangible object to display and use an anecdote, oral communication might not suffice by itself.Hence this proposes the question how necessary are these objects in correlation with cultural heritage and basic human needs. Without the object how necessary would culture heritage become for a basic human need? This source brought to mind how necessary objects become for not just individuals but societies and cultures as a whole. Myself now being a materialistic person, I don’t believe one really needs any of much objects for a survival and that our society is over-indulgent. Yet I’ve learned that objects provide genuine use for humans. Not just the  knowledge or practicals it provides, but also the feelings and memories we associated with them giving us our unique sense of self and humanity.


Blog Post 7: Rethinking Higher Education

I chose to develop my discussion on a fascinating TED talk: “Shai Reshef: An ultra-low-cost college degree.” Since my timeline focuses not only on the history of college per se, but also on the struggles that college imposes on students, this video was particularly interesting as it stresses the inaccessibility of higher education nowadays.

There is a brief introduction for the TED talk: “At the online University of the People, anyone with a high school diploma can take classes toward a degree in business administration or computer science — without standard tuition fees (though exams cost money). Founder Shai Reshef hopes that higher education is changing ‘from being a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all’.” The quote from Reshef’s speech is very important as it suggests his intention to revolutionize the modern system of higher education and help disadvantaged students realize their dreams. For this reasons, Reshef has been named the “Ultimate Game Changer in education” by the Huffington Post and had made an appearance in the list of the 50 people who will change the world in WIRED.

According to what Reshef says in the video, he created a virtual, tuition-free institution offering to help people all over the world, a model that has recently been accredited by DETC. He begins his speech by giving the examples of three young people who strongly wanted to pursue an academic career after graduating from high-school but were unable to enroll in college because of financial reasons. These are stories of creative individuals whose intelligence was denied by the classic academic model, but could be expended by his new online program. Reshef pinpoints three reasons for which the young generation is denied an education: financial reasons (college becomes a privilege instead of being of a natural right), cultural reasons (in some countries women are not allowed to go to college), and capacity (there are not enough seats or places to accommodate everybody). In contrast, being a virtual college, the University of the People is affordable and does not pose a problem in terms of capacity. Students don’t need to buy textbooks because the professors put their materials online, and the professors themselves are volunteers who don’t want a salary. “If the Internet has made us a global village, this model can develop its future leadership,” says Reshef towards the end of the video.

Certainly, it is beautiful that the University of the People opens its doors to everybody, no matter where they live or what their social position is. It is also brilliant that Reshef identifies what is wrong in modern education and uses the power of the Internet to change it. However, there are some issues raised by the academic model he introduces that are not fully examined. For instance, there are only two possible fields of study: business administration or computer science. It is true that these are currently the main areas of interest in college education as they give the possibility to find a job in the world market more easily than other fields. However, this is something that may be considered a limitation since there are disadvantaged students who are certainly interested in other areas of study as well. Another limitation is probably due to the virtual character of the program: Reshef highlights the importance of “peer to peer learning,” which means that students are encouraged to interact and study together online. The problem is that online. Having a conversation online is different from having a conversation in person and influences the quality of the discourse. This is especially true if the students are from different countries and have different time zones. Also, the University of the People does not offer a full college life: libraries, social events, trips, workshops, etc., are not available through the digital system. Finally, women who are denied an education because of their gender would not have easy access to a virtual college, since they do not have access to an actual college in the first place.

Now, it’s your turn. What do you think of the Universtiy of the People? Is it an useful and effective institution worldwide? Is this virtual college a step forward into a brighter future? Do you believe that virtual colleges are better than actual colleges? Is Shai Reshef a great thinker, even a genius? Or is Shai Reshef’s vision a little too simplistic?


Culture Of Baby Wearing Blog #7

Lakisha Rose
Blog #7
For several weeks I have been studying the culture of baby wearing. I have read many articles, from different times in history about this particular object. Personally, when I had my first child I’ve never used one, I had one because it was a gift at my baby shower. However, I did what was convenient for me at that time and didn’t use it. What I’ve learned is that parents do what best fits their lifestyle. At the time when I had my first child, I was young and didn’t have the mother child connection. I was still in school and I was young and enjoyed hang out with my friend, so a stroller worked better for me.
While study the history of baby wearing objects, and took pictures. I noticed woman mainly in the early 1900 utilized these carriers for different reasons. Baby wearing wasn’t something special like it is in western cultures, woman worked hard and it was just what they did to cope. Mothers worked hard and didn’t have time to entertain babies. It was used to make life easier, each country in the world use a different type of baby carrier to fit their needs. For example, it depended on the climate, type of work they did. In addition, to the culture and traditional wearing position.
However, I learned that this object help build a connection to with mother. The reason is obvious; mothers are carrying babies 90% of the day. Throughout the semester we have been learning about the relationship between object and writing, objects and people. Also the way object make us feel. We also read about the history of old things. This is why I can appreciate the culture behind baby wearing. Why do you think certain cultures wear different types of baby wearing? For example, Mexican people use the Rebozo, which is a square of woven cloth tied over one shoulder with baby usually on the back

Culture Consumed with Consumption

Giant Burger

People consume things daily–knowledge, information, daily grocery store purchases–and we are all consumers. Our lives are partially driven by our need for consumption. But, can this preoccupation with things in a consumer culture be too much? We all love food. I love food. You love food. My dog loves food. The ant crawling on my window sill is probably looking for food. Food is good; we need to consume it to survive, but could modern American culture be way too obsessed with food? A preoccupation with anything is never good.  In Nigel Barber’s article, “Top Reasons Americans Are Food Obsessed”, Barber writes:

“When nations get to be wealthy enough that most individuals are well fed, interest in food typically declines as people expand their horizons through reading, the arts, entertainment and so forth. They cultivate their minds and pay less attention to their stomachs. All of that has changed in recent years. As a nation, we have become more and more obsessed with food.”

Do you agree with Barber? Do you think that Americans are obsessed with food? If so, where do you think this tendency to place our emotions on our eating habits comes into play? Is this why obesity and other health problems are an issue? Society focuses so strongly on food that people are becoming famous for their eating habits, or their food creations. For instance, The Guy who Survived on Pizza for 25 Years , now has his own documentary and is famous for having a complete obsession with pizza–his fridge is stocked full with the item–he only eats cheese pizza and claims to never eat pizza. Surprisingly, this so-called “Pizza King” is still healthy, according to his doctor, but is his obsession with one food? The main existence of food is to provide sustenance. What else does it provide and is this a beneficial thing or is it detrimental?

Meta Things

Vetta Collection

So, now, the “age of loneliness” is a thing.

What does this have to do with material culture and, for my concern, the study of brands?  How did we get here?

The technology of the marketing industry is accelerating quickly.

Jennifer Roberts ties into culture theorist McLuhan’s ideas about technocracy in her essay on the lava lamp.  The 1960’s, before the age of ubiquitous technology and advertising, are the setting in which McLuhan “began describing the dehierarchized, free flowing world of information that sophisticated communications technologies were enabling” (Roberts 175).  This sounds a lot like the evolved state of information and technology at present day.

The notion of a free flowing world of information has come to be a given in the culture of the “twenty-tens.”

If social media and the inundation of information into people’s lives has a hand in creating this age of loneliness, it would be good to take a look at why people are so attracted to sharing and using social media:

According to Harvard researchers, “Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system,” so, it makes us feel good!  That’s a no-brainer (pun intended).  But it also makes us feel bad.  The same research shows that young people who use social media exhibit high-risk behaviors at an accelerated rate.

A compulsive relationship to technology and media seems to evoke the words of Marx recorded in Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project:

“All the physical and intellectual senses…have been replaced by the simple alienation of all the senses, the sense of having.”

 This concept of alienation is especially interesting considering Belk’s ideas of the extended self.   Belk’s ideas about virtual brand communities draw an interesting corollary:

Belk states that normally, aggregating one’s sense of self with branded goods usually requires ownership; in the digital world, this aggregation can happen in virtual environment in which the user or consumer can engage brands without having to invest capital, creating a virtual sense of affiliated identity.

When I go out and buy a MacBook at the Apple store, I am buying into the cultural mythology of what Apple offers.  If I log in to a website like Pinterest, I can curate all of these interests, and, in a sense, possess them in the digital sense by saving images to my page and creating boards of the things that I like and endorse.  Pinterest could surely be responsible for helping brands establish new markets and sell more goods.  What happens when virtual appreciation becomes a true craving, the consumer now convinced he/she needs to buy the object to assimilate it into his/her identity, once the sense of wanting overcomes the sense of appreciation?

Here, I reach the crossroads: Belk and Marx present related, but contrasting points of view- does having enhance or alienate the self?  I tend to think it’s a paradox– both things are happening in real time– the multifaceted existential concepts of self (Sartre via Kinneavy) could, at once, be at odds with one another within the individual, creating a sense of an enlarged and alienated self.

Dr. Newby-Clark Self-Other Perceptions

What does all of this have to do with brands?

Timeline: Technological Communication

“Can you hear me now?”

Honing in on the cell phone, in the history of human communication, has astounding results. About 40 years ago the first big brick phone successfully made its first call. Today, billions of cellphones later, anyone without a cell phone is out of touch. To be in touch we must have something at our fingertips ready to assist us as no other person or best friend ever could. It is amazing what we confide in our phones today. However, just as with any and every relationship, there are strings attached.  Even this mobile cordless device has many people strung on the overwhelming amount of information and promises it provides.

Researching this device and observing its impact on culture has shown me that the device was never intended to make us its slaves but vice versa. Unfortunately, as with anything that seems too good to be true, we only  notice the true and over all effects after our enamored eyes have cleared. Today the cellphone is almost needed to survive and we can’t continue without it for very long. Unfortunatley it also has tracking devices that other people can track us through. It also contains many secrets that we thought personal. Because time has proved to us that our phones are the furthest things from private we have learned to cope with using a device that can answer almost every question at our command and at the same time has the power to crumble our lives outside of its virtual world (like our jobs and actual perception of us).

Also through studying this device I have been able to notice the attachment and value we give the cell phone. Although we can’t live without its function, it’s outer shell is disposable when a more attractive “skin” for it comes out. In today’s world, when that same thing is even possible for humans through cosmetic surgery, it seems as though our values are no longer held in a good conversation but in the superficial delivery of it — can you here me now?


Timeline Blog Post: College Through History

In my timeline, I present the evolution of college from its foundation at the University of Bologna in the eleventh century to contemporary initiatives centered on the idea of a more accessible and affordable academic institution. In particular, I focus on the triumphs that college as an institution reached in the course of time, as well as on the struggles and frustration inherent to this academic path. For instance, to cite one of the positive entries, the formulation of the Constitutio Habita, an historical document in which for first time rules, rights, and privileges of universities are officially defined, is a moment of great importance in history as today’s generations are still enjoying the results of this conquest in terms of academic freedom. In contrast, to cite an example from the negative entries, poor nutrition is a major problem today on the university campuses of the United States, as many students cannot follow a healthy diet due to the sudden transition to a new lifestyle, irregular schedules, lack of sleep, and bad eating habits. While motives of pride were more common in the past ages, nowadays college tends to be associated with social and cultural issues. As we can see, college has its ups and downs as many other institutions. However, it seems that there is space for improvement as some people have recently worked on interesting initiatives that aim to promote a more positive image of college. For instance, Shai Reshef founded an online institution that spreads awareness of higher education’s importance, and at the same time widens the range of students who can afford a degree. Therefore, the timeline emphasizes the role of college throughout history by underlining its negative and positive consequences on the student population and even those who cannot afford to be students in modern society.

Alex Ben-Dor’s Timeline

What can be defined as the American Dream? As a child, we learn of our nation’s glorious united dream. To become a success in our contemporary society, happily married, with a beautiful family. As we age, and time progresses forward, our ‘American Dream’ changes as we grow and develop into something more individualistic, more unique to our brand of humanity. Our dreams can be considered our brand of humanity. Yet as i grew, I realized the American Dream seemed to mean success. And how does our society determine success? Through the things we own. We live in a society where people are judged by objects we own. From the houses, to cars, to fashion, and technology, we obsessed over tangible items we can show and share. Materialism consumes us. Yet growing up unmaterialistic, I wondered what would my dream look like? Studying objects i began to wonder what would i truly need as an adult versus what objects i wish and want to own. Want and need remain two entirely different things. With this timeline I explore objects that humans believe are ‘necessary’ compared to objects that remain necessary for our lives and well-being. My primary objective was to show how in our world of materialism, there exists only a few tangible objects humans actually need or should be condoned as ‘necessary’ objects for health or to survive. Objects  and peoples’ wants and needs for these objects are primarily prerogative and personal preference. For some objects like phones or cars, the need or want for an object remains completely subjective. Yet objects like toilet paper, and warmth and shelter are necessary for man’s survival.Objects’ significance is determined through individualistic opinion and also the emphasis a society may place on such objects. Approach this timeline with an open mind. I admit, even I feel like I couldn’t live without my cell phone or car, like the majority of Americans. Yet these objects did not exist centuries ago, and mankind did just fine. What truly makes an object necessary?