Following the force of flows

Flows and assemblages. They’re topics that we’ve come across before in previous courses, and in my attempt to grasp this week’s topic of what constitutes a ‘machinic’ thought, I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to grapple with the two concepts as they helped me understand the workings behind ‘machinic’ thought.

As paraphrased in Murphie and Potts’ (2003, p.31) reading, Deleuze and Guattari (1987) suggest that “what we would normally conceive as specific and isolated technologies are participants in a broader natural and cultural flow in a ‘machinic’ dimension”. Utilising their metaphor of rivers and streams, I was able to see Deleuze and Guattari’s argument that technologies also flow, and these flows are able to merge together and be produced anew as their contexts change. All assemblages, whether it be a machine or an ecology, produces different and unique things by creating, directing or blocking flows. The mechanic thought follows this understanding to suggest that technology participates in our life within a natural and cultural flow, hence bringing about cultural and social change (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 31). That is, technology is infused in our lives in a natural manner as a part of our daily flows, and this in turn brings about a relationship between the technology and our culture.

River Dane

Just as this beautiful River Dane naturally flows over and under various mediums – such as rocks, moss and algae life as well as the fish that live in the streams – and affects and changes their lives daily in various ways (e.g. shaping the rock formation, providing a supportive environment for the survival of algae or moss and moving the fish down along the river), so too does media technology on human life.
[Photo taken from Flickr Creative Commons. Photo credit: Simon Harrod]

This notion of a ‘mechanic thought’ provided me the stable middle ground I was seeking to position myself on as I was having a difficult time swaying to either side of technological determinism which strictly confers that technology is the autonomous agent of social change – so much so that ‘the medium is the message’ and media technologies are able to alter ‘patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance’ (McLuhan 1974 in Murphie & Potts 2003, p.13) – and that of cultural materialism which proclaims that technological development arises out of social need and political intention (Murphie & Pott 2012). While I can see the validity of both arguments when reflecting on my daily consumption and usage of media technologies, my pride in my most-likely naive belief that I still have the power to disengage from my smartphone and the social world it so easily encompasses (should I ever feel the wish to, that is) deters me from siding on the side of technological determinism, while I can’t say for sure that I ever felt a thirst and need to wear the hyper-technology infused Google Glass, which disputes against the idea of cultural materialism.

While I found Kittler’s argument that “after all, it is we who adapt to the machine; the machine does not adapt to us” (Jeffries 2011) an insightful reflection on the human use of technology, I have to agree that viewing “the actual function of a technology – materially and culturally” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.32) is more important than viewing its singular form. In my research I hope to utilise this mechanic thought and observe the impacts of a chosen media technology from a societal – and hopefully highly objective – view.

References

Jeffries, S. 2011, ‘Friedrich Kittler and the rise of the machine’, The Guardian, December 28, viewed March 14 2013, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/28/friedrich-kittler-rise-of-the-machine >

Murphie, A. & Potts, J. 2003, ‘Theoretical Frameworks’, Culture and Technology, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 11-38

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