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If you were to examine the difference between material and nonmaterial culture in the world, could you identify ten objects that are part of your regular cultural experience? For each of those ten objects, what aspects of nonmaterial culture (values and beliefs) would these objects represent? What has been revealed to you about your culture by doing this?

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Some material objects that you might consider part of your regular culture experience are smartphones, cars, and kitchens. Material culture consists of those things that are made by humans and are central to a person's experience. Nonmaterial culture includes abstract ideas that make up a culture. This is an incredibly fascinating question to consider the ways our values are expressed through those things that constitute our material culture.

Of course, the material culture of one person is not going to be exactly the same as another person's, but here is a list that might help you get started.

  • Smartphones: Statistics say that around eighty-five percent of Americans now have a smartphone, which speaks to the importance our culture places on these devices. Think of all the things a smartphone allows us to do in a single day: talk, text, run GPS, check balances on accounts, shop, watch videos, listen to music, plan vacations, check appointments, take photos, and so much more. It's hard to quantify which values our smartphones represent, because we do so many things with them. At the least, I would argue that they signify our value in being mobile and the desire or need to be in constant communication with others.
  • Cars: Around eighty-eight percent of Americans own cars, the second highest percentage in the world. I live in a fairly rural area, and even with a car, it often takes an hour or more to reach doctors' offices, large shopping areas, and many restaurants. Without cars, it would take great deal of planning to even maintain the lifestyle that Americans have adopted. Cars represent the value of living independently and, in many cases, of living outside the confines of cities. Of course, some pay for "supercars," which represents values of wealth, power, and speed.
  • Kitchens: This one may seem odd, but it's always interesting to me to compare American kitchens to those found in many other places of the world. Americans dedicate a large segment of their homes to storing food and eating it. It is not uncommon for American houses to have a kitchen, a dining room, a breakfast area, large counter spaces, a separate pantry space, and even multiple refrigerators and/or freezers. This just isn't true in many other cultures. This could represent our values of wellness, survival, or practicality.

Using these examples, consider those things in your own cultural experience that have great significance to you. I'm going to list some other ideas so that you can think your way through these.

  • Art
  • Weapons
  • Clothing (Consider whether you prefer brand names or not and what this means about your values)
  • Books
  • Museums
  • Planes
  • Expensive coffee or energy drinks
  • Large-screen televisions
  • Separate bedrooms for everyone in a house
  • Gas stations
  • Pharmacies
  • Tools (from small ones like hammers to large ones like cranes)
  • Designer shoes
  • A particular piece of jewelry

It might be helpful to just take a look around your home or neighborhood to see which manmade items you place a high value on.

I'm also linking a list of values that you might consider as you analyze your choices. I hope you find this helpful!

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