Your college experience may be characterized by the desire to look beyond your origins and explore the world with grand adventures. There is certainly nothing wrong in venturing out and embracing what the world has to offer. There is a temptation to be avoided, however: to think you acquire “culture” or sophistication by simply experiencing a vast array of choices that includes exotic places, natural foods, and the latest fads.
“Modern culture is defined by this extraordinary freedom to ransack the world storehouse and to engorge any and every style it comes upon,” writes Daniel Bell in his book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. This notion of culture is defined by the individual’s claimed right to experience everything in the name of self-fulfillment. It is a quest Bell describes thus: “nothing is forbidden, all is to be explored.”
Yet this eclectic notion of culture is incredibly superficial and individualistic, cold and artificial. It fails to make those rich connections within a society, its shared attitudes, values, products, and practices. Like so many words in our society today, culture becomes whatever the individual wants it to be.