Tag Archives: technology

The Spirit in my Laptop

A guest post by Mabh Savage

I’ve just read Chris Allaun’s fascinating book, Otherworld: Ecstatic Witchcraft for the Spirits of the Land. It’s a great book, and a firm reminder that as an animist, I believe there is a spirit in everything. My animism is not exclusionary. I honour the spirits of the land, or try to, but I am aware of spirits in other things too. My favourite teacup. The pen I scribble my notes with. Even my laptop.

Animism and Technology

I think it’s very common to dismiss the possibility that things which aren’t “natural” are somehow excluded from animism. But natural is a strange word when we think about humanity. If we mean natural to means the state of things before humans got involved, then most areas of woodland are not natural – yet plenty of people feel a connection to them. Most fields and meadows aren’t truly natural, yet they veritably hum with life, from the tiniest aphid to the great, surging seas of grass.

To turn this idea on its head, everything is natural at some point. The keys I’m tapping on are made of plastic, which at some point was oil, which at some point was probably prehistoric trees or animals. It’s not too hyperbolic to say I’m tapping on dinosaur bones.

So, My Laptop Then…

How can such a beast be so ornery if not imbued with its own spirit? It’s not new, far from it, but it’s not ancient either. Yet it works to its own purpose, rarely caring what mine is. Sometimes it loads up immediately, bold and ready to face whatever tasks I input into it. Other days it is slow, sluggish, yet I can swear that nothing is different. I close the needless tabs and check the task manager; this technological beast is being contrary, and nothing will convince me otherwise.

At other times, it mirrors my moods. If I have brain fog, am I simply projecting that my laptop seems a little slower, a little less responsive? I guess its easy to say that I’m just seeing what I want to see; a reflection of myself in the technology I use most.

It would be easy, if it was just me. It is, most definitely, not. Others borrow my laptop, particularly for educational or social purposes. As the person who makes money with their brain and fingertips, I do own the best laptop in the house – and so it is frequently co-opted by the rest of the family.

Guess what. They tell me, that on days when I am feeling slow or moody, that the laptop seems to be just as cranky and uncooperative. As if the laptop has some kind of empathy; a connection we have forged through spending so, so much time together.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But I take note of my experiences, and I don’t ever discount my more outlandish conclusions, especially when they form an intrinsic part of the way I believe things work. So, the laptop is always placed gently, folded with a soothing, reassuring pat, and spoken to with respect. Except, of course, on the days when we are both decidedly low on resource and functionality.

Mabh Savage blogs at mabhsavage.com.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mabhsavage

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Image copyright free via Unsplash.

Women’s technology in prehistory

These aren’t wholly original ideas.

I have seen for myself plenty of examples of pre-historians talking about prehistoric stuff that could be charting the moon. The assumption is that our ancestors needed to keep an eye on the moon for whatever they were doing. But why potentially lunar markings are divided up in ways that don’t seem to relate to the moon, is anyone’s guess, apparently. Except of course that the same monthly cycle has huge implications for female fertility.

The people in pre-history who most needed to be tracking lunar cycles, were fertile women who needed to be in control of their wombs. And who maybe also wanted to be able to educate younger women about how to do that.

When it comes to tools, there’s a tendency to focus on things with cutting edges. Partly this is because stone is what survives most reliably from the Stone Age. But, there are things to infer. Humans don’t hit the ground running the way baby horses and deer do. We aren’t furry in a way that makes it easy for babies to just hang on. Depictions of pre-historic women with babies tend towards the nearly naked, with the baby clutched to the mother any way they can.

Small babies wriggle. If you get you and them wet, they are almost impossible to hang onto. If you are holding a small baby in your arms, it is nigh on impossible to carry much else and the only thing you can do is carry the baby about. I refuse to accept that the majority of pre-historic women spent all of their time trying not to drop wet, wriggling babies. Also, babies get cold really easily, and not having a baby die of cold when it is naked in your arms all the time is going to be hard.

Our ancient ancestors were hunter gatherers. We know from modern hunter gatherers, that it is the gathering that makes up most of the diet and that gathering tends to be women’s work. You can’t gather much if every woman of breeding age is trying to do it while holding a baby in their bare hands. You can’t move around effectively if anyone under the age of two is walking. You certainly can’t run away. You can’t navigate any kind of complex terrain if both your hands are occupied with a baby.

The obvious inference, to my mind, is that one of the oldest pieces of human technology must in fact be the baby sling. Once you’ve got sharp edges, you can do things with skins, so it’s not a far-fetched idea. Women carrying babies in slings have their hands free for gathering and getting about. The baby, or small child in this arrangement is warm, safe, and easy to move about. You can’t have humans as mobile hunter gatherers if you don’t have baby slings. Our getting into colder landscapes and travelling any distance depends as much on the baby sling as it does the stone tools, the wearing of skins and the getting to grips with fire.

Seeing stars

Last week some people with hard hats came and took away our orange street lamp bulbs, and replaced the units with new ones. Instead of the orange glow, we have a much nicer light, and none of it comes in through the windows.

Light pollution is so normal that we often don’t consciously notice it. The invasive orange glow has permeated every conventional home I’ve ever had. When we lived on the boat it was possible to moor up in dark places and be free from direct street lighting, but that made the orange glow of nearby towns very obvious.

Orange street lights block out the stars – not only for the people nearest the streetlight, but for miles around. The night is made small by light pollution, we’re locked into the little orange bubble of human civilization and we don’t see or know the darkness.

I’m wholly enchanted by the new lights. I can look over the top of the streetlight, and see the stars. The orange bubble has burst, and in its place, I have the magic of the night sky without having to step outside – and on a cold, wintery night, that’s a real blessing. It’s also much easier to achieve proper darkness, and thus proper rest.

I don’t think technology is the magic answer to everything, nor do I think it is an evil we must escape from to get back to nature. Technology used wisely, is a blessing.

Druidry and technology

I’m not the sort of Druid who believes that ‘back to nature’ is the answer to everything. There’s a rather charming quote from Good Omens about a young woman who has to spend a while living in a field before she figures out exactly why her human ancestors went to such efforts to stop doing that sort of thing! Creatures adapt their surroundings as best they can for their own comfort, it’s not an unnatural thing to do.

For me, Druidry has always meant standing with one foot in the realm of human culture, and one foot in the wilds. We have to know both, and mediate between them.

I’m all for simplifying, for reducing what we think we need to get down to a more sustainable, and more enjoyable way of life. The right technology, used in the right way, is an absolute blessing to the modern Druid. So, what features should a Druid be looking for when it comes to technology?

Endurance and life expectancy. We don’t want things that are going to break, fall apart or are otherwise contrived for obsolescence.

Minimal resources. It’s better to have a small efficient thing, and ideally a thing where bits can be repaired or replaced at need, or recycled when dead. If there’s a re-use aspect to the technology, even better.

There are things machines do a better job of than people with hand tools – getting dust out of carpets for example. Check the value of doing it by hand, sometimes there is more pleasure in doing it yourself. If doing it feels like drudgery, causes you discomfort or is too difficult for your body, clearly this is a good time to get a machine to do it instead.

Some machines make work – because they change our expectations. Many people spend as much time on laundry as their handwashing ancestors did because they feel everything must be immaculate at all times. I don’t think that’s progress. Check how the machine is going to affect your thinking, and whether it will make more work for you. Consider the empty social exchange of staring at a phone versus spending time actually doing stuff with another person.

Take your time. Adverts encourage us to feel rushed and pressured and like we have to have this thing right now. Pause. Ponder. Look at your life, your home, your transport and all your other needs and think about the things that would give you most benefit. Pick the technology that will serve you, not the technology that will enslave you.

The right tool can be a great life improver. For me, a crock pot was an absolute win on this score. For others, an electric bike might be the perfect solution to numerous problems. It might be a more efficient device, or one that can use rainwater…

Things that we buy because they are all the rage, because we are afraid of being left out, because we wanted to cheer ourselves up, or compensate for a feeling of lack or inadequacy… these are the things to avoid. Shopping is one of those things we do emotionally, when we’d be far better off making more logical and informed choices.

New ways, old ways

If I invite you to picture a life where walking is transport, there’s no refrigeration in homes, food is cooked from scratch, washing is done by hand, you’ll probably be well on the way to picturing something Victorian, or earlier. Something tough, full of drudgery and misery. I want to suggest that we can go back to these lighter ways of living without being miserable, because of other technological advances.

We tend, as a culture, to focus on large, expensive pieces of technology. The car. The television, the fridge freezer, the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and so forth. Modern life is defined by these ‘labour saving’ objects. They cost us a lot to run in terms of energy, and the resources it takes to make them, and we do a lot of paid work to earn the money to afford them, so the degree of ‘labour saving’ for the ordinary worker is open to question.

There are other technologies. Modern changes to clothing are vast – manmade fibres that wash and dry easily, that are genuinely waterproof. Walking boots. Walking for transport when you have the modern gear is a world away from some poor sod tramping through the rain in a Thomas Hardy novel. And washing and drying these things by hand, with hot running water, modern cleaning products (even the green ones) and a spin drier is a world away from the copper and the mangle.

Across all areas of human activity there are multiple technological developments at play. We’ve prioritised some, without really looking about what others can give us. Thanks to the rise of the car, we’ve never given cycling a proper go, or properly looked at motorcycles as an alternative. Walking and horse powered transport are much easier when you have surfaced roads – we can have surfaces without cars, and they tend to last longer.

Part of the problem is that our development of technology is driven by the desire to make profits. If we were doing this with the aim of getting the best quality of life in the most sustainable way, the whole history of the 19th and 20th centuries would look radically different. We aren’t labour saving, we’re moving the goalposts. Maybe you don’t have to spend hours at the sink scrubbing clothes. Instead you have to spend hours frustrated in traffic queues, or working a boring job, or a tiring or stressful one, to be spared the drudgery of cooking your own meals.

The good news is there’s a lot to be gained from exploring the lower profile, less expensive technology, and the opportunities it creates to live lightly, need less money, and work less.

The dangers of normality

Anything we understand as normal, we tend not to question. We are more likely to pick on things we think are abnormal about us as places to seek change, than to work on the things that make us the same as everyone else. We are less likely to challenge any feature of our lives that is a dependable constant. Thus the person who has been gently subjected to escalating patterns of abuse won’t feel there’s anything odd at all about being hit. This is why victims stay, and people who have not been victims struggle to understand why anyone would hang around for such abnormal treatment.

If I challenge directly over something you consider normal, the odds are you will become defensive. ‘Normal’ is our baseline for how reality works, so having it challenged is always uncomfortable. It feels threatening, so the desire to protect it is both strong and entirely natural, but that makes certain lines of though almost unthinkable. So let’s do one, by way of an experiment.

If you want to have a happier, richer, more rewarding life, live greenly and generally be a better Pagan, get rid of your television.

I know perfectly well that for many people, the television as been a lifetime companion. The defences – that some programs are good, that it is entertaining, comforting, sometimes educational will leap to the forefront of your mind. This may well be true of any number of programs, but once it turns into a conversation about how Star Trek inspired you to live a better life, what we don’t get to do is talk about television as a wider issue. The social and psychological impact of television is considerable. It’s now normal for young people to feel that they could not live without one, or without their beloved phones.

Television is a good case in point because if you watch regularly, you also get the daily normalising of our unsustainable culture. You’re looking at other people’s houses, loaded with certain kinds of stuff. You’re hearing about products, and seeing them sparkle. You’re seeing how people dress. All of these things create and reinforce your reality. It is a reality of unsustainable consumption, but we’re carefully not telling each other that so as to be able to keep doing it. Around you, everyone else is seeing the same TV reality and manifesting bits of it in their lives, dialogue, consumer choices etc. Music goes to number one in the charts because of TV, sometimes because of adverts. TV supplies content for our conversations (as a non-TV person, I really notice these).

We have lives full of material riches beyond anything our ancestors dared to imagine, but we’re not happy. We are consuming resources at a rate this planet simply can’t support for the long term, and the odds are that in our own lifetimes, there will be radical change forced on us and we will have to learn to live very different lives. Are you ready for that? Do you know how you would cope? Do you have the skills, the emotional resources and the intellectual flexibility? Can you imagine what it would look like?

If the world without television in it seems like a threatening idea, that’s a thought to spend some time with. If the idea that in the future we might not be able to cope with the energy expense of television seems outrageous, do ask yourself if you would feel differently had you’d watched a program recently envisaging how television might be impacted by a low energy future.

It’s a lesson with implications far beyond the television. You can play the same game with your emotional responses to any piece of technology. Your phone, your car, your computer. I know perfectly well how much I would struggle without access to the knowledge base and people the internet gives me. If I had to choose one piece of technology to save for the future, I would give up every other 20th century device for the sake of computers and the internet. Which one would you pick?

The fickle gods of technology

Yesterday the charger for my netbook died, suddenly, leaving me unable to do most of my work or get online. Armed with the internet on his phone, Tom procured a new one, and here I am, less than thirty hours on, plugged in again. But in the meantime I’ve had opportunity to contemplate (and not for the first time) how tech dependant I am. Most of my work depends on it, at least at some point in the process. Today I sorted the boy’s Dodo costume (for Alice in Wonderland) did some reading, and tackled some research notes. There is life beyond the interwebs.

Last year when we first started the floating life, I had not really sorted internet, electricity or technology. It took a few months to figure out how to make it all work. (A mobile that creates wi fi hot spots, a netbook rather than the laptop, needing far less electricity, and an uncanny sense to smell out internet hotspots on the side of the road.) So for the last few months, with extra help from friends, we’ve been doing well. But so much of my social contact does depend on the intenet – email and facebook. The people I work with are scattered all over the world, the people I like to hear from in non workish ways are liberally distributed too. When I’m miles from the nearest town, that contact is a lovely counterbalance to the isolation of extreme rural living. And I miss it when it’s gone.

The Druid community is sufficiently spread out to make the net a total blessing. I remember what it was like not really knowing any other pagans, and how hard it used to be making contact with like minded folks – especially out in the sticks where moots are not so plentiful. I thank the gods for the technology that keeps me connected, and lets me find out what others are thinking.

My ancestors of not so many generations ago lived out here without any such technology. Admittedly, they were farmers, not authors, and the pub was in viable walking distance. Still is, come to that. The items I depend on would have been unimaginable for my great grandmother. So much that my life revolves around would make no sense to her at all. If people didn’t live in Dursley, she had the option of writing or visiting – other family were in Bristol, Cornwall, probably other places too. No skype to keep them in touch.

During the year when my lover was thousands of miles away from me most of the time, we depended on the internet, able to talk daily. Even so, it was hard, and I found myself thinking about the women in history whose men went off, to war, to explore, on ships… women who waited faithfully, or not so faithfully for years, for their men to come back. Women who went to their graves not knowing if they’d been widowed, or abandoned. Reading historical novels I am frequently struck by the number of plots that work because people can’t just whip out their mobile phone to summon help, ascertain where someone is, or pass on news.

With the author hat on, the world that existed before this one, where words typed here would not magically travel to people all over the world at a push of a button, appeals to me. Brave old world, so much more mysterious, uncertain and challenging than this one. But given the option, I like the communication aspect of this one, and even when the gods of technology frown on me, and gadgets die, I am so grateful for their existence. I love my little wind up radio, that brings music into my world. I love this magic box into which I type stories and ideas. I love meeting people who are thousands of miles away and sharing moments with them. There are many things about modern living that I decry, but the things we have are tools, and we can choose how to use them, and we do have the option of using them well.

Enough meandering. There’s a review to write on a Victorian novel (I’m on goodreads) and facebook to check, and then a walk down the towpath to see if I can sniff out the internet source I use for moving all those email files around.