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The Revenge of the Machines: On Modernity, Digital Technology and Animism

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The classical assumption that scientific and technological progress are the main driving forces behind, what Weber called, the 'disenchantment of the western world', is basic knowledge in contemporary sociology. In this paper, however, it is argued that the implementation of digital technology also stimulates the religious, or more specific, animistic imagination. A qualitative analysis of Wired magazine (1993-2000) shows that various computer specialists, who are 'supposed' to be the pioneers of a rational, secular and disenchanted society, can be seen as 'technoanimists'. They consider our new technological surroundings as an intelligent, autonomous force and express feelings of humility. Exemplary for this phenomenon is a group of ICTexperts who refer to themselves as 'technopagans'. Paradoxically, the explanation for this unforeseen development of 're-enchantment' can be found in progress in the technological fields of Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life. More generally, the ongoing process of rationalization seems to provide a good explanation for the contemporary emergence of technoanimism.


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