Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Creating meaning together

2011 . 11 . 28 - Comments / Commentaires (0)

creating meaning together

Within 45 minutes of birth, a baby can imitate the expression on another person’s face. We are an imitating species.

We’re not the only species for whom imitation is key. All social and intelligent animals copy each other. Imitation is a social behavior in that it involves more than one individual. And, like all social behaviors, it makes a species more intelligent because it encourages its members to define, develop, and track relationships among each other—something that requires a certain amount of intelligence to do. 

So, we’re not the only ones who copy each other, but humans imitate one another especially well. The evidence of our prowess is in our languages and in all of culture and technology. The only reason why any of that exists is because we are excellent imitators.

The cartoon to the left is my attempt at illustrating this. My point is that someone has to imitate in order for meaning to be assigned and for communication to happen. If no one ever imitated anyone else, we’d all be speaking our own private languages to ourselves—or, more likely, language wouldn’t exist because there’d be no use for it in a world without exchanges between individuals. 

So imitation creates culture, but it also provides a context for cultural bits, whether they’re paintings, songs, fashion trends, religious ideas, or new gadgets. And this context is important for two reasons. For one thing, it makes the cultural bit seem normal and therefore useful. For another, it spreads the cultural bit to lots of people, some of whom will reshape the bit into something useful for the next generation.

A handy example of this is social media. I don’t know a whole lot about its development, but I do remember a thing called Myspace.  Myspace was cool at some point, but it eventually lost its prominence to Facebook. Facebook was similar to Myspace in that it provided a forum for people to interact in online, but Facebook axed some of Myspace’s less popular features and added new ones.  It expanded on Myspace’s beginnings. Facebook is an evolution or, to put it another way, an imitation with some tweaks.

Then again, the beginnings of social media could really be traced back to Craig’s List forums, chat rooms, and even the original weblogs. It’s hard to define an exact beginning point because each of these online gathering places was just building on the things that came before it—old things that provided a context for the new things when they came along.

And, in the end, social media and indeed the Internet itself only matter because we use them. Similarly, we only use them because they matter to a good amount of people. In other words, we create the meaning-purpose-importance of online gathering places together.

Just like we create the meaning of painting, singing, dressing a certain way, and believing certain things. Just like we create the meaning of the words I’m using. We do it together, by imitating each other.

- On owning culture
- Culture imitates. / La culture imite.
- Words, words, words…

CATEGORIES: - English - Drawing - Philosophy - Uncopyright -

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