The chicken or the egg? (or evolution?)

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Excerpt from ‘The Matrix: Reloaded’ 

Councillor Hamann: Almost no one comes down here, unless, of course, there’s a problem. That’s how it is with people – nobody cares how it works as long as it works. I like it down here. I like to be reminded this city survives because of these machines. These machines are keeping us alive, while other machines are coming to kill us. Interesting, isn’t it? Power to give life, and the power to end it.

Neo: We have the same power.

Councillor Hamann: I suppose we do, but down here sometimes I think about all those people still plugged into the Matrix and when I look at these machines, I.. I can’t help thinking that in a way, we are plugged into them.

Neo: But we control these machines, they don’t control us.

Councillor Hamann: Of course not, how could they? The idea’s pure nonsense, but… it does make one wonder just… what is control?

Neo: If we wanted, we could shut these machines down.

Councillor Hamann: Of course… that’s it. You hit it! That’s control, isn’t it? If we wanted, we could smash them to bits. Although if we did, we’d have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air.


This week I have decided to blog on the concept of Machinic Flow, as explored in in Chapter 1 of Murphey et al.’s (2003)  book, Culture and society.

For brevities sake, I will define technological determinism as where technology drives advancement in society, while cultural materialism can be defined as where different societal pressures; political, cultural and economic, drive technological advancement.

Machinic flow, quite simply, can be seen as a combination of technological determinism and cultural materialism. To expand upon further, how both technology and society change together over time. “Like rivers and streams, they flow into each other, accumulate in larger rivers or split into some deltas” (Murphey et al. 2003, p.34)

For example a technology may appear in the flow, such as the printing press in 3rd century China, yet not be carried by the political flow of the time, only to resurface later in 15th century Europe when the political flow was more suitable (Murphey et al, 2003). Conversely, cultural phenomenon, such as globalisation, were not made possible until the relevant technology allowed.

This is an effective metaphor, however I believe it is practically flawed. While technological determinism is too simple a reduction of a more complex ‘flow’ or network, society has become increasingly dependent on technology. If we took away technology ‘we’d have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air’.

While cultural, political or economic forces may drive societal change – even technological change -these forces have all become technologically mediated. By this I mean that the flow of culture, politics, economics and technology travels over a technological bed.

While technology may not drive societal advancement, it is a restricting or controlling factor in society – a scaffold on which everything is supported. It flows with these forces as Murphey et al (2003) discusses, but in contemporary society it should perhaps be considered part of the river bed and banks than the flow itself. It is eroded and changed over time by societal flow, but ultimately supports advancement rather than strictly driving it.

That and transformation.


Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38


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