Magic and the Machine

April 19, 2021

Few people today, when they’re cycling past a stand of oaks, sense that those trees are sensing them; we don’t feel the breeze gusting around us as a sensitive and sentient presence, and upon arriving at our place of work and settling down to the day’s tasks, we don’t concern ourselves that the chairs we sit in register our presence, or that the walls of the room are affected by our actions.

Abram claims this sense of reciprocity--the core feature of "animism," the sense that everything around us is alive-- was/is an everyday perception in hunter-gatherer societies.

The technology that talks to us now is our misguided attempt to reconnect with that animism. Siri and smart refrigerators try to fill the void we lost when we stopped feeling the gaze of the spider, stopped hearing the message of the wind.

Is it not obvious that by outfitting our devices with “natural language user interfaces,” we are striving to recreate, in a clumsy fashion, something of that old, ancestral sense of living in a world wherein all things have the potential for expressive speech?

What's missing is the radically different intelligence of nature. With technology as it currently stands, we're still only talking to ourselves.