However far such generalizations may capture elements true of many, but not all, people shaped by a given culture – we must further keep in mind that, for every individual who may share such national characteristics, she or he is further shaped by a very complex range of additional differences and variations both within and beyond national categories. Folk in Eastern Oklahoma are clearly distinct from folk in Western Oklahoma, just as people in Aarhus (Denmark) have distinct (and not always positive) impressions of how Copenhageners, while clearly Danes, at the same time differ from them (and vice versa, of course). Immigrant communities are distinct in multiple ways, while simultaneously including people seeking either to assimilate to or hybridize with the larger national culture. Indeed, in any given city, a specific neighborhood features a specific set of cultures or subcultures as affiliated with age, ethnicity, and class. And then, of course, gender – generally – makes a difference as well. Oh yes: all of these change over time, of course – some elements more quickly than others – complicating the picture still further.
All of this means, again, that any generalizations we make about a culture can be taken only as starting points – as heuristics open to change, not static concepts. That is, while potentially useful for our initial reflections and encounters with one another, further exploration almost always leads us to more complex and nuanced understandings. As a result, we will almost always modify and perhaps
reject altogether elements of these starting points. In fact, we are about to see an example of this sort of modification shortly, in Soraj Hongladarom’s account of Buddhist understandings of the person and privacy – an account that will nicely complicate the basic differences between Thai and US culture that we have started with here (see pp. 45–9). At the same time, however, some notion of culture remains useful when handled with care, beginning with current work in intercultural communication.
By keeping these comments and caveats in mind, I hope that readers will never be tempted to mistake what I intend as an initial, dynamic, always incomplete, and exception-laden generalization and heuristic for a stereotype.
“Privacy” in the global metropolis: Initial considerations In the developed world, we increasingly are the digital information that facilitates our lives and engagements with one another. Luciano Floridi made this point most strongly early on: a person is her or his information.
“My” in “my information” is not the same as “my” in “my car” but rather the same as “my” as in “my body” or “my feelings”; it expresses a sense of constitutive belonging, not of external ownership, a sense in which my body, my feelings, and my information are part of me but are not my (legal) possessions.
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