One-Stop-Shop Artifacts & Cultural Models

Posted in 2012 The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , ,

American society today functions through a fundamental cultural schema Bradd Shore identifies in his book “Culture in Mind ” (1996) as the “modularity schema.” This mode of thought is pervasive in post-modern Western, particularly American, culture. It shapes the way we think and interact. Once we read the examples Shore provides to describe modularity we find that it is everywhere in our life. As if viral, modularity shapes our culture and our minds.
Shore (1996) explains that modularity values flexibility, efficiency and control. It is a design strategy breaking down complex wholes to manageable and comprehensible elementary units. Let’s take the furniture pictured in the image here to concretely describe how the modularity schema realizes itself in our surrounding.

The invention of furniture such as the sofa-bed just a few decades ago (Shore, 120) is a prime example of a modular product popular in our modularity-appreciating society. Can you identify a single function for the furniture in this image?! Furthermore, the design of the product is such that each person may change it to his or her taste. It is a multifunctional, changeable, re-designable living room sofa/ottoman/coffee-table/laptop-table set. The design website from which I share this picture is overflowing with modularity! Check it out here : This furniture embodies modularity much like our mobile phones today. In fact, to accurately describe what has evolved from “mobile phones” of the 80’s and early 90’s, we use the name “mobile devices.” However, modularity does not come to sight in physical artifacts alone.
“Foundational schema” are pervasive cultural models in a society. This schema represents a culture of thought shared by many people. Given that modularity is what Shore (1996) calls a “foundational schema,” it is no surprise to see it surface in less physical cultural products. Modularity reflects our appreciation for the efficient, flexible, customizable and multifunctional. Cultural patterns “do not occur in a vacuum” (134).
The American education system–compared to most of its counterparts around the world–values modularity as well. Diversity in college majors, a lack of federally distributed curricula, and the freedom in teaching methods at all levels of learning also reflect modularity. Corporate modularity exists too. Booz Allen Hamilton, for example, offers all types of consulting from computer science fields, to architecture and urban planning, to intelligence and national policy.
It is not within Shore’s topic breadth to discuss effects modularity as a foundational schema in our society. One can easily imply that he praises it. Admittedly, it is also easy to discern the benefits we reap from modularity today: the individualization available to us because of it, the flexibility, the efficiency and novelty. There is, however, room left to ponder undesirable consequences of modularity in its extreme.