[iDC] animism and such

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Tue Oct 3 16:05:35 EDT 2006


mike describes magic as a useful metaphor – "a convenient explanatory 
framework for the functionality of ubiquitous technology devices"

sterling, as far as i can piece together, posits magic as a dangerous 
metaphor, a 'cloaking device' that resists transparency and therefore 
endangers responsible design

julian tolerates magic as a spectacular "trope" that has its place so 
long as its "mumbo-jumbo" isn't part of any technological discussion 
that matters, like the specs for an airbus

nick argues that transparency is not necessarily always desirable and 
that it may be "necessary then to connect to the tradition of 
anthropology to see in what ways our new reactions reflect or modify 
older understandings, drawing on topics such as animism, ritual 
practice, mythology, etc."

the rationalist epistemological framework (2 + 2 = 4) within which 'we' 
are operating insists that 'magic' (2 + 2 = ?) does not exist
in this context each of the positions outlined above is reasonable 
however, taken collectively they re-express familiar rationalist and 
externalist critiques of non-literate ways of knowing

the arrogance that denies esoteric (to us) epistemologies is related to 
the arrogance that denies that technologies can have agency, that they 
exist exclusively as socially constructed objects that express knowable 
power dynamics

it's very easy to dismiss what i'm saying as naive etc., i know
but i'm not making some simplistic reference to 'the ghost in the 
machine' and i don't want to hear (again) that i'm expressing a 
condescending nostalgia for the 'other' because i ain't
i'm saying that anybody who has made serious investigations – as many 
of the people on this list surely have – into 'alternate' realities and 
the rules that govern such networks, must at least submit to the 
possibility that 'mystical' or 'spiritual' or 'irrational' or 'magical' 
(take your pick) relationships between beings may also be actualized in 
the datasphere

useful as the perspectives articulated above are, i hope that some 
other people are genuinely interested in how the virtual realm may 
reflect and connect to individuals and communities whose ability to 
visualize, to process and to share information is very different from 
that we would not be so interested frankly scares the hell out of me

i'll quote again from 2 Million Years of Technology
tho i wish someone would just invite me to their festival so i could 
actually present my poem in person!

What is digital mysticism?
Is the ffffuttt of data vapor trails
An impotent fact
Or is there scarred flesh
Souls engulfed by passion?
Will binary code give birth to multiplicitous magic?
Or do we die
Gored by boredom?

Consider the Innu people of Canada’s far north
Who, having lived for generations on a land utterly devoid of 
topographical markers
have developed the ability to see an object from all sides at once
They can triangulate perception
projecting themselves into different perspectives and planes
Of course, anyone using Maya or 3D Studio Max or Combustion or any 
other 3d digital imaging software can do the same thing
how strange, that the teenage designers of our virtual future
fluent in its native idioms
should have the same abilities
as the oral shamen of the far north

excerpted from 2 Million Years of Technology
by John Sobol

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