Preserving Culture

14 Apr 2004|Added Value

I just returned from a trip to Iceland. I didn’t go there to vacation per se, but to see a different world. To find diversity, remoteness, something untapped. Foreign. To stun my perspective. To get me back to reality.

Iceland’s landscape is incredibly diverse. Much of it feels alien. It is easier to imagine how when you think of it comprising 90% of the world’s volcanic activity. A lot of the geo-funkiness is actually as a result of it straddling the North American and Eurasian continental plates. And while it has a population of approximately 270,000, almost no one inhabits the interior and predominantly glacial part of the country (unless you believe in the abominable snowman). Imagine…apart from a few greenhouses yielding small quantities of bananas, a lot has to be imported.

Since returning, I’ve had to consistently answer the question, “So, why would you go there?” And, it’s all got me to thinking. Do others feel that remoteness is becoming harder to find? When was the last time you were traveling globally and were in a public place that didn’t have a single piece of advertising you identified with?

How does globalization really happen without compromising a community’s culture? How can a culture really be preserved along side a stampeding of global brands and affiliations? For Iceland, it means spending a lot of attention and money on respecting tradition and scrutinizing new ways of behaving and living (especially among younger generations chomping at the bit to be a part of some bigger, global community — one that embraces Sega, Coca-Cola, Puma, and to my surprise…Wrangler). I learned that in Iceland, this local/global balance is maintained by:

– programs like LangTec set up to preserve the Icelandic language since the advent of computer technology
– carefully controlling their greatest animal wonders, Icelandic ponies
– emphasizing entertainment, investing in local theatre, promoting local art
– preserving history through a real emphasis on education among all populations (illiteracy is unheard of in Iceland)
– preserving Icelandic myth — fairies, elves — and other fantastical creatures and stories
– leveraging the country’s hydro and geothermal energy sources towards economic reforms like the European Economic Area (EEA) which extend trade freedoms with Europe (much like NAFTA does for us) and in turn, helping Icelanders preserve their standard of living with a more stable economy

Iceland is definitely some place I plan on returning, if just to observe the pace at which it is changing.

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