Cultural Lag Examples and Their Impact

Updated November 6, 2020

The term cultural lag is used to describe the situation in which technological advancements or changes in society occur faster than the changes in the rules and norms of the culture that go along with those advancements or changes. This can lead to moral and ethical dilemmas for individuals as the new social norms are developed.

Cultural Lags Today

  • School Calendars - Most schools still have a 9-month school year which was originally designed to let kids be home working in the fields during the summer when most families were involved in a farming culture.
  • Cancer Vaccine - A new vaccine became available against cervical cancer. Many aspects of society were not ready to approve the vaccine for their teenage children since they felt it condoned sexual activity by young adults.
  • Stem Cells -Research has shown that stem cells can be very effective in the treatment and cure of several diseases. However, society often still sees the use of stem cells, particularly those from an unborn fetus, to be an ethical issue.
  • In Vitro Fertilization - There is a case of a woman, Anetria Burnett, who allegedly saved her boyfriend’s sperm in the condom and received in vitro treatments without his knowledge, resulting in conception and birth of twin boys. Because of the speed at which technology has improved in the area of in vitro fertilization, there is no precedence in a case such as this and the consequences, should the story prove to be true, are as yet undeveloped.
  • Life Support - Before living wills and advance directives were established, many individuals were being kept on life support without their relatives having any knowledge of what the individual would have wanted in the circumstance. Medical science moved so quickly in creating the sort of technology that would keep someone alive that society had yet to align. Family members and other loved ones did not know the consequences of keeping their relatives on life support and what the likelihood of recovery would be, causing much anguish. This was very evident in the highly publicized Terry Schiavo case.
  • Pregnancy Life Support - In another case involving life support, Robyn Benson of British Columbia is on life support, but is also pregnant. A similar case in 2013 involved a pregnant woman named Marlise Munoz. Family members must struggle with how to determine when to turn off life support when a woman is pregnant as life issues are involved regarding both the mother and the child. Again, the technology in medicine has moved so quickly that it is difficult for individuals to process situations such as these without an established social norm/expectation.
  • Virtual Medical Appointment - Another case of cultural lag in the medical community involves situations in which technology is used as a means of checking up on a patient. For instance, in one situation, a child had surgery far away from his home. After returning home, his parents sent pictures of his healing wound to his surgeon to ensure that he was healing as he should be. While, on the one hand, this can be a valuable tool, on the other hand the consequences of using technology in that way have not been determined:
  • To what level is the doctor liable when checking on a patient’s progress only via pictures taken using a mobile device?
  • How much should patients trust such a method to ensure their health?
  • What privacy laws exist to protect the patient by keeping pictures such as those only in the doctor’s office, not elsewhere?
  • Childhood Development - Since the 1980’s, video games have become increasingly popular. Many children, even at very young ages, have tablets on which they play regularly. However, research is increasingly supporting the idea of limiting these activities because of proof that children’s long term overuse of technology is negatively impacting the development of some motor skills and social skills. The development of games and technology far outpaced the development of research regarding the impact of use of that technology. That lag has, possibly, resulted in stunted development in early childhood for many children.

Now you have seen examples of cultural lag.