AuthorKlint Finley

A New Era for Technoccult

As technology embeds itself ever deeper into our lives, the strange relationship between magic and technology is finally gaining widespread attention.

There was the Magick Codes conference late last year, then the Haunted Machines event in Manchester earlier this year, and most recently a panel dedicated to magic and tech at Theorizing the Web in New York last April. Warren Ellis just published a book of talks, and they’re shot through with thinking about magic and myth and their role in technology.

We’re only at the beginning of a series of new conversations about all of this, and Technoccult should be at the forefront of these discussions. I mean, it’s right there in the name. It’s as if finally, after all these years, the site’s moment has finally come. But I’m not the right person to lead the site into these conversations.

That’s why Damien Williams, known to many of you as Wolven, is taking over Technoccult, effective immediately. This will be my last post as editor of the site.

Damien has been writing and speaking about the intersection of magic and technology for years. There are other big names in the current conversation, but few people — if any — have Damien’s track record for covering this topic. And what’s more, he’s a good friend. I can’t wait to see what he does with the site.

Why the change?

Short explanation: As I’ve gotten busier with other work and lost interest in the occult, I’ve been thinking for a while about either shuttering Technoccult or going on some sort of extended hiatus. But after our Mindful Cyborgs interview, I realized it would make more sense to hand it off to Damien. We talked it over at Theorizing the Web in April and agreed that it makes sense for both of us, and for readers. I think of this as a continuation of the spirit of Technoccult rather than an end or shift in direction.

Long version:

I started Technoccult over 15 years ago with the idea of doing a site in the same vein as Disinfo, but with more of a focus on arts and culture than politics and conspiracy theory. Obviously I’ve drifted considerably from those original intentions.

To be honest, I wasn’t even all that interested in the occult when I started the site. It seemed like a cool “cybergoth” sounding name. I had’t read The Invisibles. It was, in fact, learning that the name turned up in The Invisibles that made me read the comic, and start exploring the materials linked in Disinfo’s chaos magic dossier.

Discovering chaos magic and the works of Grant Morrison set me on a course that shaped my life for years to come. Key 23. PDX Occulture. EsoZone. It was through these channels that I met my wife. It was blogging on Technoccult that gave me the clips and confidence to land my first journalism job.

But it’s not my passion anymore. Partially that’s because my journalism career has left me with less time and energy to write here. And partially it’s because my interest in the occult and the constellation of other themes around it has waned. When I do write, it’s often about largely unrelated topics, like the environmental impact of almonds, the state of journalism, or why like to call my neighborhood “Columbia Ridge.” It’s as if Sports Illustrated stopped covering sports and decided to basically cover every other conceivable topic instead. Of course I’ll always maintain some interest in the occult and fringe topics, and I might even feel a calling to write about magic again in the near future. But it’s just not my main focus.

Yet I didn’t want to just let Technoccult die either. It’s outlived dozens of similarly themed sites over the years. Strangers have told me it’s their favorite site. I’ve tried to “rebrand” the site before and it hasn’t really worked out. It feels like it has a life of its own now.

So when I interviewed Damien a few months ago, something clicked. He writes about the intersection magic and technology, transhumanism, and the evolution of human consciousness. All the things that Technoccult readers keep telling me they want to read more about. I thought “why isn’t HE writing the site?” Then I realized: I should just let him take it over. It would give him a broader reach for his writing, give Technoccult readers more of what they’re looking for, and let me resign knowing the site is in good hands. Win-win-win.

Plus, his interest in pop culture analysis brings things full-circle back to the original idea behind Technoccult. Oh, and the first time I met Damien, he was wearing a Luxt shirt. I had Luxt on heavy rotation while I was cobbling together the original Technoccult site all those years ago.

I’m aware that although I’ve brought in other writers in the past, my voice has been the one consistent thing on the site, and that some of you might be happy to have me keep writing here, regardless of what I write about. Some of you might even prefer it. But overall I think Damien’s voice will be more of a continuation of the spirit of the site than mine at this point. And while he’ll surely bring a different perspective on a wide range of topics, I think we have compatible world views.

Yes, I could have just asked him to join the site as an additional contributor. But frankly my attempts at managing other writers have not gone well (and that’s completely my fault). Plus I can’t pay him, and it felt wrong to ask him to work for free on something that has sort of become my personal brand. The only thing that really made sense was to hand it off entirely.

I don’t know where exactly he’ll be taking the site. That’s up to him. I’ll be around in the background for the next few months trying to clean up the technical mess I’ve left. But editorially, it’s in his hands now.

What’s Next for Me

For now my focus will be my journalism work, co-hosting the Mindful Cyborgs podcast and researching the code literacy book I’ve thinking about writing, depending on how the research goes.

I’ve got tons of other ideas as well. Someday I’d like to do a print magazine, or maybe a zine hand printed by mimeograph. I’d love to start an old school dial-up BBS. I’ve still got a good start on a FATE-based pen-and-paper role playing game to finish, and that mutant history book I started researching ages ago. I have fiction ideas running out of my ears. I’ve been learning to draw and want to make a comic, and I’ve been learning to program and would love to make a video game. I have more Psychetect albums in me as well.

If you want to receive sporadic updates on what I’m up to, I’ve started a new newsletter that you can sign-up for here.

So long and thanks for all the Fnords!

Mindful Cyborgs: High Fidelity Connections and Social Media with Amy Donahue

This week Sara and I talk to writer Amy Donahue about the way that social media shapes our relationships.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: High Fidelity Connections and Social Media with Amy Donahue

Mindful Cyborgs: Consciousness Hacking

I was out this week, but Sara and Chris talk to consciousness hacker and robotics engineer Mikey Siegel in this episode.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Consciousness Hacking With Friends and Mikey Siegel

Also: I forgot to post last week’s episode, where Sara, Chris and I continue to catch-up after Chris’s retreat.

Mindful Cyborgs: Metta of Data

This week, Sara and I interview Chris about his experience at a week long silent meditation retreat.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Path of the Mindful Cyborg, Mett? of Data

Chris has also written a reflection on his time at the retreat:

There were no gadgets, no devices, no sensors, no talking, no books, pens, paper and no looking at each other.

All vegan meals.

Hours of meditation.

It was life altering.

Coming back “online”, I notice that so much of our world is suffering, as I often say in my talks.

Greetings from a Ghost Town

My friends who write newsletters tend to start them off by noting where they are. A coffee shop or a train or park bench. I don’t usually do that because I’m pretty much always writing from my desk in my home office since the only coffee shop within a mile of my house is a Starbucks in a shopping center. And because writing with my laptop in my lap, instead of on a table or desk, gives me shoulder pain for days afterword, which limits the amount of writing I can do on the go.

Warren Ellis, on the other hand, has taken to introducing his writings with variations on the phrase “Greetings from out here on the Thames Delta” when he’s writing from home.

“‘Out here on the Thames Delta” is starting to sound like my ‘Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown,'” he wrote in one newsletter. More recently he’s noted that the term is sort of a joke. But I like the idea of a personal codename for the place I live. I’m putting down roots here, and since I work from home and don’t get out much, I spend the vast majority of my time here.

But where is “here,” exactly? The obvious answer would my neighborhood: Park Rose Heights. But not only does that sound like a retirement community, but it also seems a bit too narrow. Parkrose Heights is just a few square miles of houses, apartment buildings, and, yes, retirement communities. What makes it a unique place are the areas that surround it, the context the neighborhood exists within.

Parkrose Heights is part of, or adjacent to, an area of town known as Gateway. “The Gateway area” is actually where I tell people I live, because no one has heard of Parkrose Heights. But that feels like it’s missing some context too. The gateway to what, exactly?

Well, it’s the gateway to East Portland, but this requires some explanation since when many people hear the term “East Porltand” they think it means all of Portland east of the Willamette River. And indeed, there was once a township on the east side called “East Portland,” back before it and the town of Albina merged with the City of Portland.

But today the name East Portland is used to refer to the parts of Portland east of 82nd Ave., which was the border of the city until the East Portland neighborhoods were annexed in the mid-80s.

But the name “East Portland” isn’t just confusing. Inner Portland actually feels like a port town. The name of the city is descriptive. Out here in East Portland, which looks nothing like the city you see in Portlandia, it feels like a misnomer.

So what about a more geographic name, like “Thames Delta” that describes the physical landscape? I live on the Columbia Ridge. Just south of the Columbia River, just east of Rocky Butte, a couple hours by car west of Celilo Falls, the site of what was, until 1957, the longest continually inhabited settlement in North America. Ah, now that’s a place.

And “Columbia Ridge” has a double meaning. It was the name of a proposed city that would have been composed of the then unincorporated neighborhoods east of 82nd Ave., as well as the closer-in Cully neighborhood, before they were all subsumed by Portland.

Columbia Ridge is a ghost town. Not in the sense of being an abandoned city inhabited by ghosts. Rather, the city itself is a ghost, a specter haunting the minds of the people living within its hypothetical borders even today.

Hello there from the Columbia Ridge.

This post was adapted from the Technoccult newsletter.

Mindful Cyborgs: Magick & the Occult within the Internet and Corporations with Damien Williams

This week:

Damien Williams back on the show. This week is more about the religious and occult aspects of the information society we currently inhabit. Fresh definitions and understandings of magick and the occult, musings on the type of future we actually want to live in, and on the practice of magick and the will.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Magick & the Occult within the Internet and Corporations with Damien Williams, PT 2

For more on technology and magic, check out Damien on the “Under Its Spell: Magic, Machines, and Metaphors” panel at Theorizing the Web.

Plus, All the talks from the Haunted Machines event.

Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

This week Damien Williams — aka Wolven — joined me to talk about pop culture portrayals of human enhancement and artificial intelligence and why we need to craft more nuanced narratives to explore these topics. Damien has been exploring the subject extensively at A Future Worth Thinking About.

Tune in next week to hear Damien talk about how AI and transhumanism intersects with magic and the occult.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

On the State of “Careers”

Is digital journalism a viable career? Financial journalist and media pundit Felix Salmon says no.

His lengthy and dismal assessment of the future of journalism as a career path — ie, a job where your salary increases over time and you make enough money to support a family — was, shall we say, widely panned by other journalists who think he’s being a negative nancy and discouraging young people from entering the field. Personally, I think things are even worse than Salmon says.

Now, Salmon and I are in pretty good posiitons. Him more so than I, but neither of us is cranking out articles for $0 a pop just to build a portfolio in hopes of landing a staff writer job at a community newspaper that pays less than an entry level job at Home Depot. Neither of us is cranking out 10+ “stories” a day for a clickbait site just to make rent. Neither one of us just got laid off from a major urban daily after 20 years. We’re part of the lucky few that get paid a living wage, or better, to produce journalism.

But it’s not just journalism. The entire economy is now geared towards turning humans into fungible commodities. And it’s hard to build a career in an environment where there’s no point in asking for a raise because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who would do your job for even less than you do.

This is nothing new to billions of manual laborers who are used to being treated like cogs in a machine. But once upon a time unions were able to help workers actually band together to demand things like predictable hours and livable working conditions. That has changed. but the do what you love mantra managed to turn those few jobs that robots can’t yet do into sub-minimum wage gigs that require graduate degrees.

You might think you can escape this fate by becoming a programmer. But code bootcamps are cranking out hundreds of people who can crank out CRUD apps all day. And when you start to go grey, the tech industry will toss you out like an 8-track tape.

I don’t mean to imply that all precariat — from the middle class white guy with a PhD to Rwandan woman who came to the U.S. with nothing — are equally affected by this mechanization of humanity. But we are all affected.

The answer isn’t in picking the right career for the machine age. It’s changing the system.

Chronic Fatigue Century

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a blanket term for a number of debilitating medical conditions that leave people exhausted all the time for no apparent reason. It’s not tied to any particular exertion. Rest doesn’t make it better. Patients are just left crushingly tired, often unable to get out of bed, and we don’t really know why.

Science is finally making some progress towards diagnosing and understanding at least some forms of the syndrome as an immune system disorder. But because it has historically been so hard to properly diagnose — and because people are dicks — it’s been dismissed as a purely psychological issue, as if that would make it any less serious. According to Wikipedia “many patients and advocacy groups, as well as some experts, believe the name trivializes the medical condition and they promote a name change.”

A new name would be clarifying. Then perhaps we can repurpose the term, because “chronic fatigue” seems to perfectly describe our epoch.

Unlike medical chronic fatigue syndrome, our societal fatigue does stem from exertion. But we can’t get the rest that we need. About 73 percent of Americans sleep less than eight hours a night. Not only do we take fewer vacations than the rest of the industrialized world, but we are taking fewer and fewer as the years grind on. It’s not much better if you’re un or underemployed. Poverty is exhausting. We’re willing to work but too tired to hustle.

To compensate, we’ve gone from coffee to Red Bull to Five Hour Energy to modafinil. As soon as DARPA perfects its sleepless serum we’ll move on to that.

We’ve got Kickstarter fatigue, social media stream fatigue, outrage fatigue, crisis fatigue, donor fatigue, future fatigue… fuck, I think I’ve probably got fatigue fatigue at this point.

Maybe it started with 9/11. Maybe it was the financial crisis. Or maybe it was earlier, with Y2K. All I know is that I’m bone tired, and I don’t see any rest on the horizon and that just about everyone I know feels the same way.

But maybe that’s how we start to get better. First we admit that we have a problem. Then maybe we can find a way to collectively pull the plug on this treadmill.

Mindful Cyborgs: Meme Culture, Writing, Contemplation, and Parenting with Paul Ford

Writer and programmer Paul Ford joins us again to talk about Buzzfeed, biking as contemplation and future-proofing his kids.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Meme Culture, Writing, Contemplation, and Parenting with Paul Ford, Part 2

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