Culture is notoriously difficult to define. You might know culture when you see it, but could you describe it? For us, culture means the behavioural norms shared by a group of people – the things that are learned socially, rather than inherited genetically. So culture doesn’t drive the desire to eat, but it plays a big part in determining what food you choose.
It’s also constantly on the move. Some aspects of it faster than others. Anthropologist Grant McCracken divides it into ‘fast’ and ‘slow’. Slow culture shifts over centuries, while fast culture can change in just a few years. Together they create cultural landscapes too enormous and complex to capture in a short document.
This snapshot offers exactly that – a snapshot. It’s a slice of American culture in 2016. We’ve combined datasets from internationally recognised measures of culture – like Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions – with local statistics and case studies that explore areas where culture is moving particularly fast, and which we think will be the building blocks of the cultural landscape in the future.
2016’s US Cultural Snapshot looks at how citizen journalists are wrestling control back from the mass media, why grown-ups are taking tips from kids on how to unwind, and why the county is pinning its hopes on the young.
American teens have never been so stressed
Howard County Library System, Creative Commons (2014) ©
Bright Young Things
America’s confidence in its world leader status is slipping. Only 37% of citizens see the US as the world’s leading economy. In a bid to return the country to its ‘rightful place’ at the top of the table, American parents, teachers and institutions are putting extra pressure on students.
Armed with smartphones and disillusioned by mainstream media, the American public is rewriting the rules of news coverage. Citizen journalists are telling their own stories and holding the powerful – including the police – to account.
Eager for a break from adult responsibilities, Americans are flocking to fantasy football leagues, tabletop gaming meet-ups and adult summer camps. And with the US ranked 28th among advanced nations in ‘work-life’ balance, it’s no wonder grown-ups are looking to unwind.
Broke with Expensive Taste
The US has never been more educated – or more in debt, as the rising cost of a college education is becoming more and more of a financial albatross. Overeducated and underemployed, a nation of graduates are redefining what it means to be middle class.
Two-parent working households, single parenthood and the rising costs of daycare have pushed families to reach out for additional help with the kids. Grandparents are coming to the rescue, stepping in to emotionally and financially support the family unit.
Andrea Graham Richeson is a New York-based writer and consumer anthropologist studying why people love what they love. She specialises in youth culture, gaming, fandoms, social media, and new media. She is the founder of Youth Tribes.