Sunday, November 08, 2020

Gods talking past each other

I’ve been analyzing the recent GAFA hearing in Congress (Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google), hoping to find evidence for my theory that one can treat technologies and other social forces mythologically.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Tech/Myth Project Snapshot – October 2020

I gave a snapshot summary of the Tech/Myth project back in July. Here’s an update; it outlines the current assumptions and activities of the project, and provides some background to the current effort of analyzing tech in terms of character.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Techies & Myth Part 4: More Gods as Tech

In the fourth and final part of the series of posts about mythology and the tech industry, based on an email exchange with Petri Mähönen, I try to work some loose ends into the tapestry. Like the previous one, this post focuses on myths but with an eye to the tech implications.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Techies & Myth Part 3: Goddesses and Tech

In this third part of the series of posts about mythology and the tech industry, based on an email exchange with Petri Mähönen, I explore the relevance of several goddesses of ancient Greek mythology to digital technology. The first two posts focused on the techies; this one and the next will focus on the myths.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Techies & Myth Part 2: Mythical entrepreneurs

In the second part of the series of posts about mythology and the tech industry, based on an email exchange with Petri Mähönen, I reflect on Apollo-Dionysus dynamics in tech entrepreneurs and their companies.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Techies & Myth Part 1: Apollo, Dionysus, and the Entrepreneurs

This post, and three more to come, aim to document a fascinating informal email discussion with Petri Mähönen in September 2020 about mythological ways of thinking about tech entrepreneurs and their companies. This was part of the on-going Tech & Myth project (see e.g. tech gods: Dec 2018, Jan 2019; project summaries: Jul 2020, Oct 2020). Massive thanks to Petri, and apologies for places where my paraphrases misunderstood or misrepresented him.

In the first post, I look at American digital entrepreneurs in the light of Nietzsche’s Apollo-Dionysus axis.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Elon Musk as Dionysus

I’ve been searching for tech entrepreneurs that channel the Trickster archetype. Some, like Elizabeth Holmes, resonated really well; others, like Elon Musk, fit at first, but I’ve had growing doubts. Once I started thinking about Apollo and Dionysus, though (cf. Tech Policy as Theater), Musk started making more sense.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Tech Policy as Theater

I’ve been using myth to think about tech, but Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy has inspired me to think about public policy as theater.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Categories as tentpoles

We love to think in dichotomies: us & them, up & down, good & bad, etc. They’re part of our cultural and cognitive furniture. The problem is that binaries, and categorization in general, are often more distracting than useful. I’ve been trying to focus on what’s between the categories, and that got me thinking about tentpoles. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tech/Myth Project: Snapshot Summary, July 2020

In common parlance, to call something a myth is to damn it as a pernicious false belief. A few dusty scholars might take myth to mean a traditional, transcendental story that made sense of the world to a specific group of people. I am interested in myth not because I care about debunking illusions, or studying cultural history, but because we live in a mythical world. This post outlines my current thinking about the Tech & Myth project. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

A layer model of myth

Myth is part of a cloud of related concepts, each with a huge academic literature. As a first approximation, I think of them as arranged in two fuzzy and intersecting layers, with the lower-level concepts aggregating into the higher-level ones.

Monday, July 06, 2020

War historians debate myths

John Mosier's essay War Myths (2005) contends that myths "are believed because they provide us with coherent and convincing explanations of complex events." His paper is the opening volley in a debate with several colleagues that has helped me think further about the definition of myth, and the roles of logos, mythos and pathos in argumentation.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Objectivity, subjectivity and myth

In my recent post Counterparts to logos, I wrestled with the characteristics of logos and mythos-pathos: empiricism and logical proof vs. intuition, feelings, and experience. It occurs to me that the logos/mythos axis might align with the objective/subjective binary.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Counterparts to logos

A Talking Politics podcast about the challenges of political journalism in a deeply polarized age (“Facts vs Opinions,” June 4, 2020) increased my confusion about logos (reason, rationality) vs. mythos. While I’ve been puzzling over how profoundly logos-inflected tech reporting and policymaking seem to be, current events are swamping logos-based journalism with pathos (passion, emotion, sentiment). This post is groping towards ways of thinking about what’s going on today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Myth" in tech journalism

I think of myths as widely shared stories that societies use to make sense of the world, but for most people, most of the time, myth means a widely held but false belief (Oxford, sense 2). Over the week-end I made a quick inventory of what counts as tech myths on the internet, and the results helped me think about the semantics of the term.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Another Trickster Story

Here’s another technology-trickster story; the first one is here.

Trickster was very good at entertaining people. It was a great gig: he arranged for people to entertain each other, and they gave him credit for it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Technology, conspiracies, and control

Kaitlyn Tiffany has a nice piece about “the great 5G conspiracy” in The Atlantic. I was intrigued by the link between feelings about technology and feelings of powerlessness.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Trickster Story

I’ve been grousing that I can't find contemporary myths that seem to explain how technology operates. Petri Mähönen and Pam Heath independently encouraged me to come up with my own. Here’s a first attempt.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Myth definitions

This post is a rolling inventory of definitions and descriptions of myth – mine, and those of others. The date on which an item is added to the list is given in italics, in parentheses. I’ll move it to the top of the blog every time I update it (though recently that functionality's not working).

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

#5Gcorona: Pathos vs. Logos

It’s clear – as Martin Sims argued in a recent PolicyTracker editorial – that the cellular industry and its associated regulators and scientists have made a pig’s ear of the 5G/radiation issue. However, the 5G/COVID concern (e.g.  #5Gcorona) is just the latest installment in a long tale. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

OK, Negroponte

A friend of mine at a tech company says that their data centers are running at ~80% capacity; that’s apparently way too hot for comfort – SOP is ~50%. Their telco partners are running out of comm server capacity, and are even (!) borrowing hardware from each other. Clearly the limiting factor today is atoms, not bits.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Narrowing down narrative

I concluded my post ‘Shiller’s Narratives: AEA 2017’ by suggesting that many people use the term narrative too widely, and gave a list of concepts that Shiller and others sweep up under the term ‘narrative’.  I’ve found encouragement in Galen Strawson’s essay ‘On the use of the notion of narrative in ethics and psychology,’ in The Natural Method: Essays in Honor of Owen Flanagan, (MIT Press, 2020; link is to a slightly expanded version).

Monday, March 23, 2020

Technology as Seducer

I loved Gluckman & Hanson’s remark that “Technology seduces us” in their new book, Ingenious. I’m surprised that I hadn’t thought of this as a mythical template before.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus stories

COVID-19 is a convenient source of widely shared stories that people are using to make sense of something important. They've help me think about what I mean by 'stories'.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Shiller’s Narratives: EconTalk 2020

Russ Roberts chatted with Bob Shiller about his book Narrative Economics on the EconTalk podcast in February 2020. (What looks like a complete transcript is available on the podcast page under “Audio Highlights.”)

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Shiller’s Narratives: AEA 2017

Robert Shiller’s 2017 AEA presidential address helped me understand what he means by narratives ("Narrative Economics," NBER Working Paper 23075). He explicitly includes explanations, and implicitly includes beliefs and descriptions; I think is far too broad. It looks like he’d count any concept as a narrative.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Frankenstein at the FCC

A full-text search for “Frankenstein” on ECFS (the repository for official records in the FCC's docketed proceedings from 1992 to the present) on 22 Feb 2020 returned 91 results. I was surprised the number was that small.

Monday, February 17, 2020

A little political history story

From the Talking Politics podcast episode Are We Losing Faith in Democracy? (Jan 29, 2020), here’s a nice little example of how stories are told in political economics.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Huawei as ritual scapegoat

Thinking about the mythological resonances of two recent op-eds about US posturing regarding 5G (h/t Dale Hatfield) took me to an ancient ritual: scapegoating.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Tech is just a cool tool, folks. Move along now.

For my sins, I occasionally look at corporate PR to see how companies talk about tech. This post by Satya Nadella would certainly win a bunch of Cringe Awards. I was struck (but not surprised) that tech is portrayed as a tool – and not at all as something, as Heidegger argues, that changes everything into stuff-ready-to-be-used (cf. section 2.1 of this SEP entry).

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The T Prize

Someone in Washington DC asked me how the government's R&D agenda could re-invigorate the US wireless manufacturing sector.

Thursday, January 02, 2020


My discovery of a performance of Corelli's La Follia on recorder and harpsichord (Michala Petri and Mahan Esfahani) led me to recordings of follias by Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI: La Folia, 1490-1701, and Altre Follie, 1500-1750. What I thought was one composer's set of variations turned out to be a tradition more than two hundred years long.

Though everyone improvised over pretty much the same bass line, each composer brought their own quirks. It was a wonderful reminder that there is great value in saying the same old thing, even just slightly differently.