Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tending to Personal Micro-Cultures

I was browsing through one of my favourite websites this morning, and chanced upon the novelist William Gibson's lovely concept of a 'personal micro-culture.' Lovely and compelling because when you think about it, what are we, after all, other than the sum of our experiences, our relationships and our taste?

Lately, I've been reading a lot, and thinking a little bit about taste. Taste can make or break an artist's, designer's or writer's career for obvious reasons. Not so obvious is the way taste shapes life for the rest of us. It's that I-just-can't-put-my-finger-on-it quality which frames our loves, likes, and dislikes. Is something just right, or ever so slightly off? Is it me, or is it not? Can I live with it, or will I get bored? All questions we ask ourselves dozens of times everyday, and also questions we ask about others. Will he like it? Don't they realize that's tacky? What were they thinking?

Whether we realize it or not, our taste will play no small part in determining what we enjoy, what we learn and do (if we're lucky), who we like, who we marry, how we live. But taste is not the same as preference. It hovers under our personal radars as part-instinct, part-unconscious-programming. And it kicks into gear before we realize that we have formulated an opinion.  

People who lack taste (and here I speak not about the quality of an individual's taste, but about its relative absence) somehow seem to lack substance. They have no particular preferences and no specific hankerings - and it is particularities and specificities that make people interesting. I'd go so far as to say that taste makes for character. Aren't ethics and morals at least partly about not doing the things we find distasteful? Opinions and decisions don't just spring up spontaneously. Knowingly or otherwise, we run them through a personal filter - a shifting framework constituted of our experiences and our taste as they exist at that point in time.

It's true that taste can make prudes and judgemental gossips of us, but it also makes us individual and unique. Whether we like it or not, we're all social experiments immersed in the invisible ether of our personal micro-cultures.Wouldn't we be doing ourselves a favor by consciously adding whatever we find instinctively beautiful, wonderful and intriguing to the mix?

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