Michelle McCudden is a Client Engagement Director on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group. Follow @mmccudden1
What do Burning Man, fantasy football, and Saturday Night Live’s Digital Shorts have in common? On the surface, probably not that much. But they’re all examples from anthropologist Grant McCracken’s latest book, Culturematic.
As McCracken describes it, a Culturematic is a “little machine for making culture” intended to “test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value.” It’s something that’s easier to describe through examples, rather than by definition, and as such McCracken spends most of Culturematic describing and analyzing examples. When Saturday Night Live allowed Lonely Island to create a series of digital shorts, it was an experiment. It was a test, of new formats, of integrating comedy, celebrity, music video and new ways of reaching the traditional SNL audience, online vs. on TV.
Burning Man and fantasy football are also presented as examples of Culturematics, but with slightly different roots. With no corporate backer at their onset, their creators came to them organically—doing something for personal enjoyment that caught the attention of like-minded others and soon took off as a phenomenon.
One of McCracken’s goals for the text was “to make innovation a little more practical and a lot less fashionable.” The Culturematics he presents certainly still seem fashionable, but practicality is a harder road to sow. Many of the Culturematics seem to have worked through corporate support (Lonely Island and Lorne Michaels) or through blind luck and momentum (fantasy football and Burning Man).
Working in the digital culture industry, Culturematic is certainly inspirational. If nothing else, it’s an excellent compendium of cultural artifacts that have touched the zeitgeist in the last few years.