Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information


Davis, Erik (2015-03-17). TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information. North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

  • of all technologies, it is the technologies of information and communication that most mold and shape the source of all mystical glimmerings: the human self.
  • information technology transcends its status as a thing, simply because it allows for the incorporeal encoding and transmission of mind and meaning.
  • From hieroglyphs to the printed book, from radio to computer networks, the spirit has found itself inside a variety of new bottles, and each new medium has become, in a variety of contradictory ways, part of the message.
  • Spirit is an altogether different bird: an impersonal, incorporeal spark that seeks clarity, essence, and a blast of the absolute.
  • By submitting ourselves to the ravenous and nihilistic robot of science, technology, and media culture, we have cut ourselves off from the richness of the soul and from the deeply nourishing networks of family, community, and the local land.
  • modernity is partly defined by the enormous conceptual barrier erected between nature and culture. (p. 2).
  • We begin to see that everything is connected, and this recognition invokes premodern ways of thinking. (p. 3).
  • that technologies extend our creative powers by amputating our natural ones. (p. 5).
  • Apollo can be considered the god of science in its ideal form: pure, ordering, embodying the solar world of clarity and light. Hermes insists that there are always cracks and gaps in such perfect architectures; intelligence moves forward by keeping on its crafty toes, ever opening into a world that is messy, unpredictable, and far from equilibrium. (p. 7)
  • Hermes would approve of the Internet, a mercurial network of far-flung messages that functions as a marketplace of ideas and commodities. (p. 8)
  • the hidden machinations of the new corporate media powers, the potentially atomizing effects of the screen on social and psychological life, and the bedeviling issue of access, as communication technologies hardwire the widening global gap between rich and poor. But Hermes prepares us for such dangers, because the merchant of messages traffics with deception: he lies and steals, and his magic wand closes human eyes forever, drawing us into the deep sleep of forgetting.(pp. 8-9).
  • Hermes thus unveils an image of technology, not only as useful handmaiden, but as trickster. (p. 9).
  • we might say that technology too is a spell and a trick, a device that crafts the real by exploiting the hidden laws of nature and human perception alike. (p. 9).
  • The contemporary rise of attention deficit disorder, a condition seemingly linked to the ubiquity of media nets, only underscores how much we need to treat attention as a craft, at once a skill to be learned and a vessel in flight. But the name of this chronic syndrome also contains a clue. For it is precisely disorder that we need to learn to pay attention to, because in that turbulence lies our own future manifold. The mind is an instrument, and we practice scales so that we may begin to improvise with spontaneous grace. (p. 340).
  • Ecologists and network architects would be the first to point out that, while everything is ultimately connected to everything else, some things are definitely more connected than others. (p. 343).
  • Whether taking form as Gilgamesh, a Round Table knight, or Ulysses, the man of many devices, the hero plunges ever forward, riding his vector of yearning, though his linear track often leads him into the traps and cul-de-sacs of an ensnaring nature he must constantly resist. (p. 344).
  • Machines articulate and define themselves against the messiness of organic nature, a world whose laws and limits they both exploit and conquer through control, manipulation, and speed. (p. 344).
  • In her book Zeros + Ones, Sadie Plant unlocks the secret history of women and machines, brilliantly rewriting the history of digital technology as a cyberfeminist yarn: “neither metaphorical nor literal, but quite simply material, a gathering of threads that twist and turn through the history of computing, technology, the sciences and arts.” (pp. 345-346).
  • Though technology and engineering have historically been considered masculine provinces, Plant argues that digital networks, and the imbrication of those networks with culture, economy, and DNA, are undermining a patriarchal agenda she identifies with control, identity, and individual agency. Network technologies and computational devices breed multiplicities, not stable identities, although established structures of power constantly try to constrain and exploit this turbulence. All along, working women have been forced to engage the nitty-gritty labor of the network: telephone switches, typewriter keys, microprocessor assembly, the proto-algorithms of the loom, even the multitasking of domestic labor. Decades before men invented electronic brains, women who performed calculations for a living were known as “computers.” (p. 346).
  • Our bodyminds are struggling to adapt to these new multiplicities. Just listen to the dance music that samplers and digital microprocessors churn out today. (p. 347).
  • Today we are faced with the enormous challenge of how to sort, index, search, link, and navigate through multidimensional fields of data that crisscross a variety of different formal genres: text, sound, image, algorithm. (p. 351).
  • We blame technologies for things that arise from our social structures and skewed priorities; we expect magic satisfactions from machines that they simply cannot provide; and we remain consistently hoodwinked by their unintended consequences. Technologies have their own increasingly alien agenda, and human concerns will survive and prosper only when we learn to treat them, not as slaves or simple extensions of ourselves, but as unknown constructs with whom we must make creative alliances and wary pacts. (p. 355).