Publications;Hands on

15th October 1999 at 01:00
TechGnosis. By Erik Davis. pound;14.99. Serpent's Tail.

This is not a book for everyone. You need to be well disposed towards Californian "thinking", sympathetic to the style of writing of Marshall McLuhan, tolerant of an intellectual potion that blends together Jodie Foster, Teilhard de Chardin, Zen, Stockhausen, gnosticism, Wernher von Braun, and The Grateful Dead.

No one can accuse Erik Davis of stating the obvious. At times it is difficult to work out what Davis is saying because he is grappling with concepts which are very new. Early on in your reading you have to decide if you want to indulge the author. It would be a pity if you abandon the quest, because some of the insights attained are worth considering and could alter the way you view this subject.

The subject matter "myth, magic and mysticism in the age of Information" is enough to make certain people retch. Davis argues that these ideas are behind our fascination with this technology and he attempts to put it all in an appropriate context. You may well end up rejecting the central ideas of the book but, like hearing a stimulating speaker, you will have been affected. I am not going to advise anyone to read the book because it reads like Wired after shock treatment. It would have to be a very mechanistic thinker who denied that what has happened with information technology over the last 50 years has left us untouched. It is relatively easy to see the sociological implications, but what else has happened to the way that we view the world, ourselves? Are we more isolated inside ourselves or are we more collective, one node in a growing universal consciousness?

No, this is not a book that is going to help you directly to teach physics or maths better, but it might give you a better understanding of the profound impact that this technology has made, is making, and will continue to make. Davis believes that a Gaian brain could be developing: "Boundaries dissolve, and we drift into the no-man's zones between the synthetic and organic life, between actual and virtual environments, between local communities and global flows of goods, information, labour and capitalI the boundaries of our identity are mutating as well." Parts are indigestible, but others open parts of your mind like an explosion and it remains the book that I will still be thinking about this time next year.

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