Hello there. I would love to welcome you to this amazing International Heritage Month. In the Xitsonga language of the South African people, I’d like to say “Swa nandziha ku va laha” (It’s nice to be here). As the title asks, I’ll do the same: What is the anxiety around culture sustainability in the digital age? If so, what solution do we have for this?
Topics covered in today’s blog include:
- Culture Sustainability in Sustainable Development
- Digital Access in cultural sustainability
- Digital Marketing in preserving cultures
Thank you for taking the time to read on my anxiety as well a possible solution I believe we all need on the preservation of our African cultures in the Digital age. Be sure to leave a comment on your thought at the end. Enjoy.
Introduction: Culture sustainability and Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic – which currently impacts around 95% of all human beings – led rapidly to a digital world where culture seemed to be collapsing. It’s a time when many people feel anxious about how sustainable our cultures are amid the centrality of technology in our lives.
There’s been a lot of talk about this, from Stephen Hawking’s ‘AI will probably destroy all humans’ (and subsequently, cultures too) report to Elon Musk saying that humans should merge with machines because ‘humans will be deleted or enslaved’. Is the preservation of our indigenous cultures safe?
And with the virus, the world has become fully digital. We are all connected through the internet and everything is available at our fingertips with just a click of a button.
With this, marketing has also moved into this digital era. Digital marketing is making a gradual growth in Africa and around the world, bringing the end to traditional marketing.
But what does it mean for Africa and its arts and cultures? Does it affect creativity? Does it bring African narratives to life? African cultures have always been intrinsically linked with arts and culture. From food, to music or sculptures, we provide an important cultural narrative for our people.
With this, the digital revolution should not only touch on art, but should also be able to factor in other aspects of our daily lives. This means that companies and other organisations should not only sell products to us, but also engage us in their narrative by creating meaningful artworks.
Culture Sustainability in Sustainable Development
First, we need to define what sustainable development is, together with the role of culture in Sustainable Development. We need to understand that sustainable development is not about sacrificing the environment – it’s about seeking harmony between different parts of society.
In order to fulfill this objective, people must seek equality and cooperation. In turn, this would result in a better quality of life for everyone.
On that note, cultural sustainability is very much dependent on social sustainability – cultural sustainability must be achieved through active participation from individuals within the culture instead of through government imposed programs.
The Role of Cultural Sustainability in Sustainable Development
What is Culture?
“Culture is who we are and what shapes our identity. No development can be sustainable without including culture.” This is the definition of culture given by UNESCO Almaty. To quote the well-established Mr. Richard Curtis on his views on arts & culture, he said they are crucial “to the joy and self-knowledge of nations.”
Culture is who we are and what shapes our identity. No development can be sustainable without including culture.UNESCO Almaty.
In order to achieve cultural sustainability, many scholars have been advocating for collaboration between arts and culture and sustainable development.
In the past, arts and culture have been sidelined as non-productive sectors (we took it for granted in school, too). However, as times changed and technology became more widely available, many scholars became interested in how art and culture interact with sustainable development. That answer lies here.
Cultural Sustainability as a job creator
People within the arts and culture sectors are pushing for culture sustainability and their role in alleviating poverty within their communities.
As we know, dignity is as much a right as it is a responsibility. Speaking on culture and intercultural competencies, cultural sustainability within the arts and culture sectors can also create employment through skills development in the production of cultural artwork, which leads to job creation and, ultimately, a lowered poverty rate within communities. These tackle SDGs 4, 8, 11, as well as 17.
Digital Access in Cultural Sustainability
Now, after we know what cultural sustainability is, we need to ask ourselves – how sustainable are our cultures? And why should we feel anxious about it? We live in a world that’s dominated by the digital.
As such, almost every aspect of life is digital – from banking and working to shopping and dating. You can connect with anyone around the world without leaving your home.
We now have access to more information than ever before and we can use this information for progress and social change. However, as much as this helps us move forward, there’s also a tradeoff: loss of identity and culture through assimilation and globalization.
This might be the reason why I feel anxious about our cultures and how sustainable they can be in the Digital Age.
“almost everything is digital. Our language, our arts, our stories – what happens when you lose these? Who do we become if we lose them?”
And with Covid-19, this anxiety has only gotten worse.
Almost every African child already had experienced the change that came with Covid-19 and its digital revolution where life changed overnight after we found ourselves in a world fully digital.
Almost every aspect of life changed: from the way we go about doing things to how we make money and even how we tell stories and pass on wisdom to our children (or future generations). Now that we have the internet, how do we preserve our cultures? Will our culture still be there in the digital age?
This is why many people are worried about cultures not being sustainable. Why? Well, let me tell you! Culture isn’t sustainable because it changes with time. Our cultures as African people are deeply rooted in passing down centuries’ worth of sacred knowledge through storytelling.
This sacred knowledge has always come from oral tradition which makes it different from written traditions. Unlike written traditions, which are easily erased, cultivated oral traditions transform over time and require much patience and love to keep them alive.
It’s easy to see why our cultures are threatened in a world where even a nine-year-old can operate a smartphone and use the internet to connect with other people from around the world. I believe that’s where Covid-19 comes in.
In the Digital Age, knowledge is easily accessible and it doesn’t take much effort to find out what you want or need to know. It’s because of that that people have been losing their identity and culture.
How? By not having the patience and discipline to learn about our culture and identity as African people. There’s also this saying: “for those who forget history, history will always repeat itself” – we can’t move forward if we don’t know where we come from.
If we want to be sustainable, we need to take time and learn the stories of our cultures – this is how we can preserve them and live on them forever. We should nurture our identity, for it is something that has guided us into becoming better people than what we were years ago.
Digital Marketing in preserving Culture Sustainability
Now that we’ve established what cultural sustainability is, let’s talk about how Covid-19 can help social entrepreneurship promote cultural sustainability. Many social entrepreneurs are actually doing it the wrong way, due to lack of education or confusion of their roles.
A lot of companies ‘sell’ culture instead of making them available to the public (I say sell instead of share because a lot of companies try to charge a fee for access to their artworks). This leads us to a weird situation where only those who can pay have access to African culture.
I’m sure you have heard this before: “African culture is not for sale”. And you know what? That’s true. I mean, you can’t sell culture, it’s something that people can only access if they are willing to learn.
Now let’s get back to the topic at hand: Digital age and cultural sustainability. Now that we’ve talked about what cultural sustainability is and how our African cultures will be affected by the digital age, this brings us to the main question:
How can digital marketing help cultural sustainability? A 5- step Guide
Firstly, you need to use social media/digital media to reach out to your audience. The more people you reach, the more sustainable your culture will be. Now, that’s not to say that it will be free and widely available all the time (that would defeat the purpose of cultural sustainability), but you can make your works accessible through digital media.
Secondly, promote your culture and projects through digital media because it’s a great way to reach out to a bigger audience. We can use digital media to promote our arts, music and other traditional practices that are less accessible. If people could access these arts then their culture would be sustainable.
Thirdly, you can teach other people how to do the same thing that you’re doing. By sharing your knowledge with others, you’re helping them preserve their culture as well as giving them a contribution to the world’s knowledge. In my opinion, this is the most important thing because it’s all about collaboration between people from different cultures. Right now, art and culture are being left out of sustainability efforts because, as previously mentioned, they aren’t seen as a productive sector.
However, there are projects that are combining people from different cultures in a positive way to preserve their culture. Look for them. Join World Youth Summit forums. In this Heritage Month, do something to enrich our African Cultures. Join Rise Africa webinars. Go out there.
Fourthly, you can help the people who have the traditional practices and arts that you’re promoting by using digital marketing to make them more accessible. You can promote this art/culture through digital marketing and help them get recognised by other people.
Fifthly: the last thing you need to do (this is completely optional) is to run a social entrepreneurship project and use it as a vehicle to promote your culture. If you’re not good at video or other forms of creative media, then go ahead and hire someone else who is good at it (which could be quite expensive).
More good news…
You don’t need to look far to hire an expert. You alternatively can build your digital marketing skills with us at the International Institute of Digital Marketing™ where you have a wide selection of services you can choose from. So, we still have hope, Africa. All we need is collaboration.
Ok, let’s go through the points covered:
- Cultural sustainability is more than preserving traditional knowledge and arts. Culture leads to identity and culture is intimately connected to our daily life. If we don’t recognize this, we run the risk of losing our cultural identity and our ability to preserve it for generations.
- Digital marketing can provide a way for us to not only preserve our culture, but also to promote it and make it more accessible. You can use technology to share information and help other people preserve their culture.
Globalisation and the digital age have had different implications on our culture, but I’m sure we can work together to be resilient to these effects. To protect cultural integrity, we must work proactively to react to these changes. We need to learn how to share resources with each other in order to preserve our cultural identity. Overall, if we don’t focus on cultural sustainability then we’re forgetting who we are as African people. Together, let’s preserve Africa’s rich heritage for future generations!
I am Reneilwe Shirilele – South African, Tsonga – currently pursuing a diploma in Sustainable Development with Stellenbosch University and a Digital Marketing Analyst intern with the International Institute of Digital Marketing™.