Bottom-up change is defined as a decentralized approach to methods of systemic change. This is when everyday people change their actions to have an impact on the world at large. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how bottom-up change can be used to make a widespread cultural impact

What is Cultural Change? 

Culture is the system of collectively held beliefs and values in a society. Cultural change is about changing our traditions and lifestyles to suit our needs. A shift in cultural beliefs can come naturally as time passes, as new generations bring new ideas. Anything that has a measurable impact on our lifestyles is sure to affect our cultural values. A few things that can affect our cultural attitudes are:

  • New technologies
  • Changing environments
  • Change in socioeconomic status
  • Cultural Exchange

Oftentimes, cultural change is closely tied to social change

Culture From the Bottom-Up

Both top-down and bottom-up approaches can have an effect on cultural beliefs. Apple’s release of the iPhone over a decade ago has had a massive impact on our lifestyle. Since Apple is a major industry leader, this is an example of a top-down approach. But more often than not, real cultural change is bottom-up. 

The movement towards secular beliefs over the last century is an example of a bottom-up cultural shift. Whereas world leaders in the early 1900s were strongly religious, science has become a larger influence on laws and policies. Ancient humans were driven toward spirituality, not understanding the science behind natural events. They were at the mercy of a powerful unknown force, one which had to be appeased. In their minds, prayers and rituals meant life or death. Over time, these rituals became codified into law, and a culture of organized religion became the norm.

As science began to explain many of these phenomena, religion is played an increasingly smaller role in everyday life. Old cultural values and traditions were replaced as new information about the world became common knowledge. These attitudes eventually made it to the top, with leaders becoming more secular, basing their decisions on science rather than religious beliefs. 

Cultural Feedback

Cultural change often has a rebound effect, where the cultural impact bounces between the top and bottom. Changes in the cultural beliefs of everyday people eventually have an impact on policy. In turn, these new policies affect our daily lives. This process creates a feedback loop where top-down and bottom-up trade places in cultural interchanges. 

The Technological Revolution

In the 1990s, computers were making their way into our homes. Companies like Apple Computer and Microsoft were perfecting the early desktop. AOL was developing faster internet speeds. At first, the change was slow, but it didn’t take long to pick up the pace. By the early 2000s, the technological revolution was in full swing. The technological progress was a top-down phenomenon, with large corporations leading the way. But the cultural effect came from the bottom, eventually impacting legislation and even toppling entire industries. 

A few examples are listed below:

  • Napster nearly toppled the record industry in the early 2000s. Consumers switched from buying CDs in record stores to downloading their music for free online. Record companies took huge losses, which forced the industry to leverage the legal system to protect profits. Copyright laws forced Napster to shut down. Still, illegal music downloads remained popular, resulting in a cat-and-mouse game between shady file-sharing sites and copyright holders working to shut them down as they appeared. All the while, the changing music landscape created a flourishing underground music scene, complete with small, homegrown record labels. This continued until the mid-2010s when streaming services became the norm, once again allowing large record companies to sell their music to the masses. Still, the Indie music genres popularized during this era remain hugely successful, co-existing alongside pop music on streaming services.
  • As the internet became an increasingly pervasive part of our lives, more people began sharing their personal information and intimate details about their lives. With social media, users were able to create personal profiles, where they could connect with family and friends, or find like-minded individuals who shared their passion. This instant connectivity defined a generation. But this came with a serious downside. Much of the internet remained anonymous and unsecured. Skilled hackers and scammers are able to con their way into bank accounts. Online predators saw opportunities to coax children into believing they were trustworthy. And most recently, government agencies and tech companies were found to be collecting and gathering data on millions of people. The outcry forced governments to pass strict laws concerning cybersecurity and data collection. Today, online privacy and security remain contentious issues. 

Key Takeaways

Cultural change can be top-down or bottom-up, but oftentimes, it comes from the bottom. When we shift our traditions and values to match changing environments, policymakers and industries are forced to catch up. 

  • New information and discoveries affect our collective worldview. 
  • Changes in the dominant paradigm can create new cultural traditions, forcing governments and industries to change how they operate.
  • Industries looking to remain profitable must stay tuned to cultural trends, lest they become irrelevant.