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The Hen and the Pig August 19, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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Cyclists naturally see the world in cycles. Everything becomes a wheel. cycles of seasons, cycles of life and death, cycles of trends. Reading about single-speed cycling can be interesting as well. Since it is such a fringe aspect of the sport it attracts only certain individuals. One of the themes that frequently comes up on single speed cycling forums is that of commitment. Commitment is a very deep form of involvement. Involvement is something that admits of degrees, but commitment has sharp edges. You’re either in all the way, or not at all. One of the analogies used to describe the difference is a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The hen was involved, but the pig was committed.

McLuhan talked about electronic media as “cool” in the sense that they are involved and detached “like a surgeon performing surgery”. While the ideas of McLuhan are still surprisingly relevant (possibly even more relevant than current social-media theories), there is the possibility that there are other forces at work. Or if not, a different regime with some different properties. A phase transition.

If the electronic media that McLuhan was concerned with such as the telegraph, radio, television, telephone, etc. were “cool”, then arguably they weren’t committed since they are detached (maybe). Closer to the hen. With the increasing scale of integration of electronic technology the question of involvement becomes more and more relevant? i.e. are we closer to the hen or the pig?

People are starting to see some devices such as cell phones as a part of their body (prescient as ever, McLuhan talked about this phenomena as well with relation to extension of human capability, and auto-amputation as a natural protection mechanism against shock). Is this attachment related to the commitment of the pig?

The pig is an increasingly important mythic form (I’m being a bit facetious here in constructing a myth of the pig as committed by virtue of being bacon, but you get the idea) in our society. With the rise of extreme sports and violence as a means of claiming identity it should be apparent that something is happening. People climb cliffs, ride off them with mountain bikes, launch across gaps between buildings on skateboards (see “the leap of faith gap“- the part at the end of the segment); anorexia is a subjugation of the body and cutting is a bonding activity in high schools just to name a few examples. The characteristic that all of these things have in common is commitment. These activities do not admit of the hen, but only of the pig.

I’m not sure exactly what this means, but to see these trends as unrelated to technological mediation would be an incredible oversight. The ideas, ideologies and themes perforate all aspects of modern culture and subculture. Transmitted through music, video, clothing and art. The Internet being an aggregate of all media. When combined in this way the parts form new wholes that may (not) have existed before. Increasing immediacy means increasing involvement. If nothing else, I think we can at least say this represents a phase transition to a new regime. It’s an odd mixture between a reaction to information overload, and the requirement for increased stimulation (McLuhan talks about this kind of phenomena in relation to the myth of Narcissus and the narcotic numbness that extended capability enables/induces).

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