Summary: In 1993 and 1994, AT&T released a series of commercials depicting a host of cutting edge technologies. In one commercial a man relaxes on a beach holding what appears to be a tablet computer: "Have you ever sent a fax from the beach?" comes the voiceover. "You will." This ad campaign might be useful for instructors seeking to illustrate the distinction between two aspects of any culture: material and nonmaterial. Nonmaterial culture refers to things like values, norms, and social roles, while material culture refers to the physical artifacts of a culture and typically includes the sorts of things people can touch. When a person asserts that hamburgers are a part of American culture, they are really referring to material culture. Tablets and cell phones too are manifestations of material culture. Most of the twenty or so innovative products depicted in AT&T's "You will" ad campaign have long since faded into the vast tableau of consumers' technologically augmented lives, but with the benefit of hindsight, it's possible to draw on the commercials to reflect on how technology has changed the lives of average people. To put it differently, how do changes in material culture give rise to changes in nonmaterial culture? For instance, to the extent that technological advances are driving the growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs), what kinds of changes in the nonmaterial aspects of higher education will likely follow suit? How are the norms, values, and roles usually associated with educational institutions being permanently altered? Finally, while it may seem apparent that technological changes in material culture drive changes in nonmaterial culture, is the reverse ever true? Do changes in norms, values, and roles give rise to changes in technology?
Submitted By: Steven Dashiell