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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, January 06, 2006
    Techgnosis
     
    A good couple of days at St Deiniols reading Erik Davis's allegedly cult classic Techgnosis; Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. It is very, very good. The publisher's blurb says it as well as I can:

    This work presents a perspective on technoculture by exploring the mystical impulses behind our obsession with information. In an age where it feels that technology has replaced imagination and that the rational outmodes the spiritual, Erik Davis unveils the hidden history behind each leap in technology. From the printing press to the telegraph, from the radio to the Internet, Davis takes us behind each communications breakthrough to reveal the mystical fervour that inspired it: utopian dreams, apocalyptic visions, digital phantasms and even alien obsessions.

    The revelation is that you really can't separate technology from the mystical, spiritual, religious. Or no-one really ever has, it seems. Which flies in the face of modernist assumptions that technology and the spirit don't belong together. The reality seems to be that we're all on a gnostic search for true knowledge which will release us into the true, good, higher world made by the real God, and we create and manipulate our technologies to that end.

    Those in the centre of technological changes have acknowledged this, perhaps subconsciously at times. So when Samuel Morse sent the first official coded message along the Baltimore - D.C. line in 1844, it was 'a strangely oracular pronouncement: "What hath God wrought!"' The text which birthed the information age 'reads as much like an anxious question as a cry of glee'. And similarly there's the words from the Bhagavad-Gita which came to Robert Oppenheimer's lips the moment he saw his first nuclear baby explode: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

    Others, of course, have been far more knowing in their desire to meld the mystical with the technological. Davis' writing bounces along and oozes examples in his analysis of the chemical-experimental sixties, new age technique-obsessions, evangelicalism's masterful manipulation of the mass media, UFO-mania and the worlds of computer gaming and virtual reality. Techgnosis greatly deepens our understanding of what's going on in a rapidly-changing technoculture and one of the best things about it is that it tells us, not in a tired but in an inspired voice, that actually we've all been here before.