Some Periodicities of Change

        Before discussing the democratizing potentials of video, I want to consider the personal and social dynamics of technological impact. I'm convinced that this subject -- which we also gropingly identify as “cultural diffusion” -- is essential to understanding the process of change in technological society. Much of what I have to say relates back to Chapter IV. I say it here because collective adaptation to change proceeds, in its psychic aspect, largely through our media of communication, our outered nervous systerm; and new technology opens new potentials for relating individual changes coherently.

        72.  As ordered knowledge, whether or not embodied in mechanical devices, gives rise to new programs of behavior, a new technology becomes embedded in society. Each aspect of this embedding -- political, educational, economic, etc. -- is consonant with every other: the technology is a harmonious chord played on the instrument of the culture. Though its harmony may be malignant, it is always integral. Yet it is not fixed: each technology's elements can be reharmonized in many ways.

        73.  Like a chord plucked on a rich instrument of unexpected resonances, each new technology spreads, swells, reharmonizes others, achieves some living balance, and eventually dies. (Consider the curling iron, macrobiotics.) And the instrument itself is in constant change, transforming itself under the touch of the music played upon it. As the tempo mounts, it lurches, trying to move in clumsy dance to the energy coursing through it. Its keys reach back like fingers to send the music's vibrations electric through the hands of the Player, running in series circuit through his mind and organizing his metamorphosis from the cellular level up. 0 Golem rise and dance, wedded with your Maker, who for so long has viewed you apart from his other creation and has hidden and denied your nature under the armor of his own false image.

        74.  Each new technology spreads in a shockwave of learning and change, a minor or major lurch of the Instrument. The phenomenon is general: its main features may be seen by examining the spread of encounter groups, psychedelics, transistor radios, or the Black Panther Party.

        On the personal level, the breaking open of perception, etc., which accompanies one's initiation into a new technology and begins the process of life-reorganization to include it in harmony, usually takes up to six months. (13) There follows a period during which the self accomplishes primary reintegration -- pulls order together out of the somewhat Chaos created by the presence of new element and new connection, the flesh of new technology as it appears in the consciousness. Taken together, these two phases of the "shockwave period" typically occupy energy for sixteen to twenty-four months. After this period, the self’s work can turn to secondary integration ("polishing"); to exploring the further possibilities of development of the new technology and within it; or to other technologies and their changes. (These phases may be studied closely in the mirror of the sciences. albeit on a different time-scale. See T. H. Kuhn. op. cit.)  

        75. These phases of impact and first reorganization are easy to observe in the early interaction of many young couples. They meet, go through some months of excitement charged with opened energies. Then they seem somewhat to withdraw from their normal social space, to sort out privately their flows and conflicts and order these in some ongoing way. Late in the second year of living together comes a cusp point: either the relationship fails to engage and they split; or its going-on is established, and they enter a more active phase of moving out into the society of their friends.

        These phases show up in every process in which the self is exposed to newness and tries to integrate it (the impact of new material technology is unremarkable as a special case). The time parameters depend of course on how adaptable the person is, and on what forces play upon his/her life. But these particular figures, say six months and 18-to-24 months, may be observed so frequently now (via new record albums, psychotherapy, etc.) that they seem to represent a present general norm for the speed of "healthy," relatively unblocked adaptation.

        76.  In cross-cultural experience. e.g., the Peace Corps. "six and eighteen" months appears again. Six months is the usual breaking-point of the fever known as "culture shock," which comes from being embedded in an alien culture-organism, connected into nourishment/harmony in few of its aspects and surrounded by strange patterns. (American businessmen are made twitchy because Latin Americans want to sit close enough to touch as they talk.) In six months shock-fever rises to a crisis of inward decision, in which the individual chooses to reject new order, symbolically and substantively -- coming home because of homesickness, remaining an Englishman in India, failing to move on after an encounter breakthrough--or chooses to accept the benefits/costs of adapting to new order and begins to reintegrate consciousness and behavior around what has been revealed in Breakthrough. When this is complete to a first degree the individual becomes somewhat "at home" in the waters of a new culture; and within his skin, in osmotic balance, is a hybrid but coherent internal culture.

        Through this example, we can view adaptation to any new technology -- be it a foreign language, a toaster, or political action -- as the process of passing from one culture to another more or less distant, as this takes place inside the individual consciousness.

        77.  In social bodies, the phases of adaptation to new technology are similar to those within the individual's skin. Every small group newly forming takes some months to "jell" into its first identity. After this, most self-organizing groups function for one to two years and then disperse (perhaps leaving a core that reforms to repeat these phases). In cases where the group and its enterprise persist past this cusp, they enter a third and longer phase -- seven years? open-ended? -- characterized by deeper commitment and institutionalization of roles.

        In larger groups -- those whose members do not all know each other -- the timing of these phases depends not only on the six-and-eighteen month "personal” parameter, but upon the extent to which the lower nervous system of our information media connects us into a collective consciousness. When the connection is relatively efficient, vivid, and distance-canceling, we see the shock front flash across a whole subculture with almost no "trailing lag." Broad populations open and assimilate the shock almost as a single being, and in little more time.

        The history of every aspect of the counterculture has been structured by this phenomenon as it is working out in the lives of the young who have grown in electronic connection. Its rhythms are evident in the waves of different use that structure the spread of psychedelics; the explosive spread of campus demonstrations and urban counter-communities; the multiplication of free universities; the discovery of Marshall McLuhall; the way response to a Dylan album proceeds.

        Some idea of the rhythms, in Berkeley and abroad, is given by this brief chronology for the white movement:


        Reflecting on the flavors of these signal events, their inter-dependence becomes clear, and some regularity in their timing appears. There seems also to be a larger cycle of four years or so, keyed partly to election times, which may surge sharply in 1972/3 and 1976.

        78.  The process of social change is compounded in major degree from the impact and assimilation of new technologies. Linked as we are, many people are now going through roughly the same changes, in detail, at nearly the same time. The pace and action of change become rhythmic, organized around these six-and-eighteen month periods. Together we watch the public theater that registers our reactions in the conflict of transformation -- the FSM, assassinations, the Chicago Convention. And moods of feeling sweep over us in synchronous time. Traveling around the country, I'm constantly amazed at how people everywhere turn out to be going through the same trips about even their most personal lives and problems at the same time. Marcuse, McLuhan, Tolkien, Kesey, Easy Rider: ideas and fantasies flashing across our mind. The Haight, hair: freedom. Woodstock: joy. Chicago: terror. People's Park: mingled. Cambodia: bewildered outrage. Do you only imagine you felt a collective gasp when Jack Ruby rushed up to Oswald? The simultaneous impact of any new ordered knowledge sends us all into a collective stone, a peculpar and characteristic high. (14)

        79.  Energy changing its organization in time is music. The music of a fast-changing society has other rhythms than the immediacy of communications, the six months of opening, the eighteen months of assimilation. The motif of each new technology. if of interest after first sounded and absorbed, is developed in broader phases, which repeat this basic cycle and tend to proceed in multiples of its basic time units. (Perturbing factors like government control of technology make such orderly analysis impossible.) As there seems to be no upward bound to the possible extent of cultural transformation, so there seems to be no arbitrary limit on cycle-length: we have been millennia in digesting, or in preparing to vomit, the knot of Yang metaphors.

        But one other time-length seems essential to a search for fixed parameters with which to measure and interpret the rushing of change: the length of human life. For this is the period during which -- if it last so long without passing into a newer one yet  -- a new technology becomes a presence in the experience-since-birth of every inhabitant of an electric culture. Before this time there will be disharmony and conflict in the way its uses are received by different age-groups.

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