Ancient animistic beliefs live on in our intimacy with tech

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« on: February 27, 2020, 01:35:52 am »
Ancient animistic beliefs live on in our intimacy with tech


Recently, science has come to understand the emotions of social bonding, and I think it helps us understand why it’s so easy to fall into these ‘as-if intimacies’ with things. Care or bonding is a function of oxytocin and endorphin surging in the brain when you spend time with another person, and it’s best when it’s mutual and they’re feeling it too. Nonhuman animals bond with us because they have the same brain chemistry process. But the system also works fine when the other person doesn’t feel it – and it even works fine when the other person isn’t even a ‘person’. You can bond with things that cannot bond back. Our emotions are not very discriminating and we imprint easily on anything that reduces the feeling of loneliness. But I think there’s a second important ingredient to understanding our relationship with tech.

The proliferation of devices is certainly amplifying our tendency for anthropomorphism, and many influential thinkers claim that this is a new and dangerous phenomenon, that we’re entering into a dehumanising ‘artificial intimacy’ with gadgets, algorithms and interfaces. I respectfully disagree. What’s happening now is not new, and it’s more interesting than garden-variety alienation. We are returning to the oldest form of human cognition – the most ancient pre-scientific way of seeing the world: animism.