I've seen the word culture abused quite a lot recently. People will apply the word culture to many things where I don't believe is warranted, for example:
- American culture
- Geek/Nerd culture
- Company culture
I would argue none of these things exist, yet people will keep repeating those words. Let's dive into the etymology of culture.1
Obviously, the closest English relative is the term cultivate. When I think of cultivation, I think of careful planning and fostering for the purpose of a seed to bear abundant fruit. Culture is a powerful word which when applied to human societies, I believe, is meant to represent powerful, vast, and omnipresent things.
Ancient traditions and histories of Asian, African, and European populations I believe are a great example of what to apply the word culture to. Europeans have been around for nearly one hundred thousand years and Asia and Africa are many times older than that. That kind of history and tradition is what culture is, not having pinball machines in a room in your office building.
The Chinese people have been performing a celebration most of the world has heard about for over 40 centuries: Chinese New Year. Now, that's not a lot of time in human history, but a person in China today has had generations upon generations of societal building of the celebration. It is the most important day of the year for an entire populace. No Star Wars movie can even come close that2, because Chinese New Year is actual culture that exists today.
What we perceive as culture today can most likely be replaced with tradition, or lifestyle. I actually like the word lifestyle the most here—it represents a way of living at the current time and not presenting itself as a multi-century-old way of life affecting millions of people.
I think that people today (from an American point of view) want more culture in their lives because they noticeably lack it, but can see it exists in other places/people around them. Culture is so valued by Americans today, though, and they have begun to falsely make things part of "American culture" just so they can say they have it.