Monday, December 30, 2019

Is high tech still pre-mythological?

I was struck by a paradox in an Esquire article about why les GAFA should be broken up : the argument and examples are compelling, but there’s no sense of who les GAFA are as characters, let alone as mythological archetypes.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2020s - Decade of Reliability?

In the PolicyTracker 2019 Christmas newsletter, Martin Sims argues that the consumer benefits of higher and higher broadband speeds become ever more marginal. The challenge for industry (especially 5G) is whether customers will pay extra for it. While I sympathize with the sentiment, this claim is not new; we hear it every time broadband speeds click up. Betting on “Consumers now have enough X” is a proven way to lose money... and yet.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Tech the Troublemaker

A colleague recently circulated a news story that police in Longmont, CO decided to keep radio traffic encrypted after the completion of a pilot program. Discussion ensued about the pros and cons of encrypting police channels, including First Amendment concerns. I decided to take a mythological tangent.

Sunday, December 22, 2019


I think of experiment as a reasoned procedure to learn something by trying out a series of variations. (Wikipedia notes the importance of "repeatable procedure and logical analysis," for example.) I enjoy baking beskuit (South African rusks; think Boere-biscotti) because it's an endless experiment: with every batch, I try something new.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Fertilility myths in high tech

I was very taken by Derek Thompson's "Google X and the Science of Radical Creativity" in the November 2017 issue of The Atlantic. I was inspired to scan it for metaphors, which are documented in a doc shared here. I was especially struck by the prevalence of fertility metaphors; keywords include seeds, harvest, drought, fruit, reap, and gestation.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Narrative in economics: Shiller’s stories

I was excited by the title of Robert Shiller’s new book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events (2019), but disappointed to find that he defines “narrative” much more widely than the stories I'm looking for, and was hoping to find. Overall, though, I think his meaning is close to my interest in myths: stories spread by word-of-mouth that shape how society imagines itself.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Twins, digital and mythological

A comment piece in Nature this week talks about mirror worlds (cf. RF mirror worlds), though the authors use the currently-fashionable term “digital twins” rather than Gelernter’s “mirror worlds.” While there's more to be said about the substance of the piece (it's a very technocratic and manufacturing-oriented perspective), I'm going to focus on the cultural underpinnings.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Molding humans

Two stories from the Research Highlights section of a recent Nature podcast got me thinking about the wide range in human behaviors, e.g. extraversion and introversion, risk appetite and aversion, optimism and pessimism.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Second thoughts on statistics and chaos

I argued in the last post, Mythology, old and new, that modern times call for a new god of uncertainty; I felt that neither Tyche nor Dionysus quite fit the bill. After Susan Tonkin’s private feedback, I’ve become less certain. (Her help with this whole series has been invaluable.)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mythology, old and new: Some patterns and implications

I’ve been exploring the intersection of technology and mythology recently (Techno-Loki, Greek Technology Gods, Spectro-Loki, and Afterthoughts). This post starts to pull together some of the threads: why gods are useful, candidate gods (not Gods) in modern life, and technology as god(s).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Afterthoughts: Norse & Greek Technology Gods

In recent posts, I explored patterns in Norse and Greek mythology that might help me understand technology. Before I attempt to draw conclusions, here’s a rag-tag bag of afterthoughts.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Spectro-Loki: The trickster in radio spectrum

In Techno-Loki, I argued that the Norse trickster god is a good metaphor for technology. I described how tech, like Loki and his exploits, has to be coerced into doing the right thing; follows impulse, skipping from one thing to the next; produces effects both good and bad, which are sometimes hard to distinguish; and is a shapeshifter. The examples in the previous post were a grab-bag of technologies; here are some from my current specialization, radio and spectrum.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Greek Technology Gods: Hermes, Hephaestus, Prometheus

As I wrote recently, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology prompted me to think of Loki as a god of technology. However, it’s not so simple in Greek mythology where there are many candidates, notably Hephaestus, Hermes and Prometheus. Their similarities and differences offer new perspectives on how to think about tech as a supernatural force.