Cybernetic Mysticism: Black Mirror Divination and Memetic Magic

Robert Wright (University of Wolverhampton)

3rd May 2017, 4-6pm

417 Muirhead Tower

University of Birmingham

Abstract: Apple Inc promotes many of their products as being magical, such as the iPad and their recently launched Airpods. However, this talk will address not this stage magic, but instead two specific sites of dark conjurations being evoked in today’s cybernetic ether. Both are conducted by divergent groups for differing ends, mostly under our everyday perception. What unites these techno-magical covens however is in how they attempt to utilize their unique knowledge of cyberspace, both technical and sociological, in an attempt to alter hearts and minds.

In more detail:

From the advertising that descends from the clouds of corporate technology giants, to the missives emitted from the dark alcoves of the hacking community, metaphors of mysticism and magic once seemingly discarded by our modern rational world appear to be bubbling up once-more. This contemporary return can be particularly felt in conjunction with our relationship to the internet and its associated networked communication technologies; these were first connected to the cybernetic ether by ether-net cabling, but today more commonly cross-over by sending signals through the air that are guided by wi-fi daemons.

Future corporate projections of consumer technology show no let-up in what can be viewed as the cybernetic re-enchantment (and subsequent mystification) of the world. From talking obelisks in the form of the Amazon Echo, to the internet of things powered smart homes which promise, when they work correctly, to turn our homes into a utopian realization of the imagery witnessed in Disney’s Fantasia. However, on the flip side of this positive view is the hidden possibility that our homes and other previously inert material possessions could be hacked, leaving open the dark potential of plummeting from the perfect visage of a smart technological utopia into a world that can be haunted and ruled over by malevolent outside forces.

The key problem with the conflation of magic and technology is crucially one of everyday fundamental phenomenological miscomprehension. The founder of cybernetics Norbert Weiner was all to aware of this danger and in his 1964 book God and Golem Inc he specifically looks in detail at the implications of a devoted utopian belief in a world based entirely upon his ideas of feedback. He does this by reinforcing the link between his science of cybernetics and magic.

This paper will outline this background and then look at two specific sites of dark magic incantation being enacted in today’s cybernetic ether. Both are conducted by radically different groups for entirely different ends, doing so mostly under the everyday apprehension of the average online muggle. What unites these conflicting techno-magical covens however is that they both utilize their unique knowledge of cyberspace, both technical and sociological, in an attempt to enact their will in the manner that resembles the affective contortions of a magician’s spellcasting.

I want to ultimately argue that online we find ourselves embroiled in a language war over our perception, one in which affect is being both exploited for monetary gain and weaponized for political leverage. Warnings of such phenomena can be seen to echo through magical tomes of days gone by, where we are warned that bards are to be most feared because through their trickster mastery of language they can change how people view their reality. Why is this important? Because language is information and if we are living in an information age we need to learn what that entails. In essence we all need to grasp that online we are as wizards and as such we might as well get good at it.