Shall Do What Thou Wilt Be the Whole of the Tech?

Image Copyright The Independent UK

There is nothing that is not magick, if apprehended correctly, and there is nothing that is not technology for the same reasons. We’ve mentioned, before, that the roots for both technology and magick are in “craft.” The Greek root for this is “Techne,” and you can look to Athena and Hekate and Hermes and Hephaestus and see deities of both Art and Artifice. They are goddesses and gods of skill and cunning and language and creation and weaving—stories and textiles—and theft and all of these things are bound together.

This is part of why we talk, here, about magic and technology, and what “artificial intelligence” really means when we break it down.

But the Western world’s Greek ancestors aren’t the only ones who bound their technology and their magic together. Egypt saw Thoth creating language and magic, being a god of technology and the repository of all memory and knowledge. Odin is the Master Speller and the great artificer (and thief and Cunning Man). Legba and Ellegua are spiritually tied to crossroads, thresholds, beginnings, endings, and communications, making the Lwa the obvious choice for Gibson to map onto the Internet.

And in all of this we have the root technology of language. The manipulation of words and memories and “spelling” and, again, “craft.” Kim Boekbinder reminded us, some weeks ago, that, “Songs are spells, incantations. Careful what you sing for. Songs are spells. Be mindful of what you listen to.” And we’re back around to phonomancy, again. But these are the more poetic uses of language, and their intent, as stated, is to hit you in the heart, in the viscera, in the instinct. Less prosaic (but no less powerful) uses of language than these are laws.

The law is a spell that works on you, at every moment, whether you will it or not. Laws are the codification and concretization of moral codes and systems of justice, all of which are derivations of a society’s values. They are the concentrated beliefs and essences of what people think and feel and believe are best, and their particular parsing and deployment can have long lasting, permanent effects on your life, even at great distance from you, and without your conscious knowledge. But, just like other forms of magick, the law can be learned, can be understood, and in most cultures, one can even become fully initiated into its mysteries. And when you know the law, you can use it to your own advantage.

The law is alive, and somewhat adaptable, but it’s also rigid, the pace of its change is often glacial, and its outcomes are not always Justice. The knowledge and recognition of that last fact allows for those who see antiquated and even repressive expressions of the law to do things like erecting a 9-foot-tall Baphomet Statue, and carrying it around the country to places where one religion’s views seem to be given state-sanctioned preference. Or Wiccans and Pagans working out how best to use various “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” against the people who only ever seem to mean Christian religious freedom.

If we understand the law as a technology of social control, we can see the cruxes of influence and words of power that allow us to utilize it, and to leverage its often purposefully-occult nature. We can, as with many ritual forms, use it to transgress against itself, to subvert its grasp long enough to craft a more permanent solution.

Meet the tweet-deleters: people who are making their Twitter histories self-destruct

Kevin Roose reports:

Lazin-Ryder is one of a number of Twitter users who are using homegrown methods to make their tweets self-destruct. He says that having his tweets disappear automatically makes Twitter feel more conversational and casual, and less like a professional pressure-cooker.

“Tweets are passing things,” he said. “I don’t laminate and frame my note-pad doodles, why would I preserve my tweets for all time?”

Full Story: Fusion: Meet the tweet-deleters: people who are making their Twitter histories self-destruct

I’ve been thinking about doing this, but I also really like using Timehop to explore old tweets. Split between Ephemera and atemporality.

(via Ellis)

See also:

Risk Reduction Strategies on Facebook

Pics and It Didn’t Happen

Technology Isn’t Magic—It’s Haunted

Vice interviews Tobias Revell and Natalie Kane about the forthcoming Haunted Machines conference, and the problem with “magical” metaphors in technology, especially when it comes to the Internet of Things:

“The intention of that, whether explicit or not, is to obscure the technical and often financial and legal reality of the system by covering it up with those terms,” said Revell. In a world of things “just working,” the curators want to remind people that magic doesn’t actually exist; it’s a sleight of hand, a deception.

Full Story: Vice: Technology Isn’t Magic—It’s Haunted

(via Jay)

Mindful Cyborgs: Zeynep Tufekci on the Consequence of Algorithms

This week Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill*, talks with us about the implications of algorithmically filtering social media feeds.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Algorithmic Reverberations on the Feed

For more on the topic, check out Zeynep’s article on Facebook’s algorithms and Ferguson.

*This was recorded a few weeks ago, well before the recent tragedy in Chapel Hill, so we didn’t discuss that.

Mindful Cyborgs: Digital Dualism and Its Malcontents

In this episode, a conversation about our concerns about where technology takes us back to issues raised in some of the earliest episodes as we talk about the duality of “online” and “offline” and whether our concerns are rooted in technology or society. Also, perhaps a little late, a conversation about why Google Glass was such a bomb.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Cyborgian Promise, Cyborgian Perils

MIT Media Lab Course on Magic and Interface Design

From the course description for the MIT Media Lab class “Indistinguishable From… Magic as Interface, Technology, and Tradition”:

Topics will include:

-Stage Illusion as Information Display
-The Neuroscience of Misdirection
-Magical Warfare: Camouflage and Deception
-Magic Items and the Internet of Things
-Computational Demonology
-Ritual Magick as User Experience Design

Full Description: Dan Novy’s site

(via Cat Vincent)

A Look at Contemporary Amish Life

Democratizing Drones

Artist Ingrid Burrington talks about the problems with “drones for good”:

The best possible scenarios for drone technologies being used in the future center on the question of who owns them? It’s mainly proprietary technology, mostly in the hands of the military, if we are talking about the large, heavy-duty, and weaponized drones, while the smaller hobbyist and consumer-grade drones still are beyond the price point of the average consumer. The concept of using drones for good, while very well intentioned, still feels very much like it’s coming from this neoliberal, nonprofit, industrial-complex mentality, which weirds me out. So the potential for drones having positive social impacts has to do with drones becoming an available tool to those who could use them for establishing equitable power relations. The problem is that drones are tools that by default operate with asymmetrical power relations: the operator can see lots of things that you can’t see. So improving the scenario becomes about allowing people to see what drones see.

Full Story: art21: Drones: An Interview with Ingrid Burrington

There are cheap drones like the Parrot AR, but I’m guessing she’s referring to ones that can fly further and longer. This brings to mind nanosattelites that let you rent time on them to do your own space research. Perhaps we need something similar but for drones?

This reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post this video of the drones panel at the Theorizing the Web conference:

The panel included The New Aesthetic coiner James Bridle, Weird Shift Con and Murmeration co-organizer Adam Rothstein, other Murmeration co-organizer Olivia Rosane and Briar developer Eleanor Saitta.

One of my favorite bits is Bridle saying “the history of all aerial stuff is the history of weaponization.” I thought he said the first military use of aerial weapons happened during a Russian attack on Vienna in 1790, but I’m not sure what battle he was referring to. Perhaps my notes are wrong. Wikipedia tells me that the first military use of observation balloons was by the French in 1794. Also, the Chinese were using paper lanterns for military signaling as far back as the 2nd century.

The problem isn’t technology, it’s exploitative business models

Former Twitter engineer and Simple co-founder Alex Payne writes in response to yet another rant by venture capitalist Marc Andreesen:

We could go back and forth all day on what exactly defines technological change – I certainly have before. But what labor wants is self-determination, not a slowing of technological change. Taxi drivers protesting Uber aren’t saying that they want apps out of their cabs. They want leverage to negotiate wages and working conditions so they aren’t barely scraping by. The pushback is on exploitative business models, not technology.

“Let markets work”, you say, “so that capital and labor can rapidly reallocate to create new fields and jobs.” Well, we’re three decades into an era of systemic deregulation and financialization. The result? Global recession, lingering structural unemployment, and an accumulation of capital at the top of the economic pyramid. In this climate, capital has indeed “rapidly reallocated” … into hard-to-tax, hard-to-regulate asset classes like fine art. Small business loans are still crunched and austerity reigns while tens of billions in corporate profits sit in off-shore tax shelters.

The “severe macroeconomic down cycle, the credit crisis, deleveraging, and the liquidity trap” that you mention in passing? We “let markets work”, and that’s what we got in return. It’s been a failed experiment for everyone but the 1%. Dismissing “the crisis of inequality” as just a “pessimistic economic theory” has not been, historically, a move that’s gone well for aristocracy.

Full Story: Alex Payne: Dear Marc Andreessen

See also:

Marc Andreessen’s Crude and Nuanced Tech Cynicism

Rusty Foster on Andreessen

Technology And The Novel, From Blake To Ballard

Novelist Tom McCarthy on writers’ relationship to the haunting sounds of technology:

The telephone, it turns out, owes its invention to more than simply hearing-aid experiments. Alexander Bell, who grew up playing with mechanical speech devices (his father ran a school for deaf children), lost a brother in adolescence. As a result of this, he made a pact with his remaining brother: if a second one of them should die, the survivor would try to invent a device capable of receiving transmissions from beyond the grave – if such transmissions turned out to exist. Then the second brother did die; and Alexander, of course, invented the telephone. He probably would have invented it anyway, and in fact remained a sceptic and a rationalist throughout his life – but only because his brothers never called: the desire was there, wired right into the handset, which makes the phone itself a haunted apparatus. […]

The pinnacle of literary modernism, its most sophisticated and extreme achievement, is Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, published 17 years after Ulysses as the world stood on the brink of a new orgy of technology and death. Impossible to summarise in a sentence, the Wake has been variously interpreted as the babble running through a dreamer’s head, a disquisition on the history of the world, ditto that of literature, a prophetic set of runes for our age, and a scatological tract so obscene that it had to be written in code to escape the censorship that had befallen Joyce’s previous novel. But whichever way you read it, two things are certain: first, that (as the word “Wake” would suggest) it’s a Book of the Dead, dotted with tombs and rites of mourning; and second, that the technological media people it at every level – telephones and gramophones, films and television and, above all, radio. We have “loftly marconimasts from Clifden” beaming “open tireless secrets . . . to Nova Scotia’s listing sisterwands”; we have a “contact bridge of . . . sixty radiolumin lines . . . where GPO is zentrum” (the post office was the site of Radio Eireann); we have “that lionroar in the air again, the zoohoohoom of Felin make Call”; we even have disembodied voices shouting to each other to “get off my air!” According to the Joyce scholar and poet Jane Lewty, co-editor of Broadcasting Modernism, “the Wake can best be understood as a long radio-séance, with the hero tuning into voices of the dead via a radio set at his bedside, or, perhaps, inside his head.” Perhaps, she concedes when I push the point with her, the “hero” might even be the radio set itself.

Full Story: The Guardian: Technology and the novel, from Blake to Ballard

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