In most cultures, people have worn things around their neck to protect them from negative energies, from evil forces, and also to give them positive energies, constructive powers. It is a way of projecting themselves onto the world in order to take a more effective control over their lives. Amulets are the objects used to protect against negative energy and talismans are the objects used to generate positive energy. Both of them are attempts to deal with the inchoate flowing blendable continual phenomena, the existence of which people sometimes feel. Evil is a concept for dealing with everything from natural catastrophes to criminal minds, and sometimes when natural catastrophes occur, they are seen as being caused by criminal minds. Criminal minds that cause natural catastrophes are called sorcerers in some cultures. Anyway, amulets supposedly help people ward off the effects of sorcerers and other inchoate evil forces.
On the other hand, talismans confer magical powers and endow a person with good fortune. Although nowadays, the distinction between witches and sorcerers tend to be blurred, traditionally witches tend to use their powers for good purposes, at least in many cultures. Also nowadays, the use of talismans doesn’t make a person a witch, but rather the emphasis is on giving a person good luck.
In both cases, these objects confer an atmosphere to the people who wear them, a spiritual atmosphere that transforms a person’s life in a positive way by transforming his field of experience. This atmosphere from the spiritual world subtly transforms a field of experience in the material world.
Today most people in modern technological society don’t wear amulets or talismans. Most people today would think of such objects as being objects of superstition: a way of thinking that has little relevance for most of us today. But I wonder if people have truly moved so far away from traditional amulets and talismans in today’s world. To the extent that modern technology is so complex that most people today really have no feel as to how it really works, such people would experience it as magical, something of great power whose real workings are impenetrable to the average person. And to the extent that modern people wear digital devices to either protect themselves from negative situations or to give them positive powers, these people are, in effect, creating digital amulets and digital talismans. On the surface, it would seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
And yet perhaps that is not exactly true. Modern wearable digital devices are different from traditional amulets and talismans in a number of ways. First of all, the activation of a wearable digital device leads to a somewhat predictable purpose within a predictable time period. Granted that the mechanism and energy which activate a particular process for a given goal may not be fully understood by the average user, but the external presentation of the process is fully understood. The cause of the process emanating from the device is connected temporally to the effect or goal of the process in a way that can be readily perceived.
This is not true with traditional amulets and talismans. First of all, the precise defined discrete goal of a process and energy activated in an amulet or talisman cannot be easily grasped in advance. Many times, events or situations occur after a person starts wearing a traditional amulet or talisman that are claimed to be the result of wearing the amulet or talisman, even though a direct causal chain cannot be visually established. Furthermore, no one can predict ahead of time at what time intervals such an event or situation will occur after the person starts to wear the amulet or talisman. In the case of the wearable device, a person knows what will happen after he starts to set in motion the process for which the device is being used. Furthermore, the person will know what amount of time would have to elapse before the device reaches the desired goal. In other words, with wearable devices, there is much more control in terms of the nature of the outcome and the time elapse to the outcome. Part of this control is based on the fact that the outcome of the wearable device is a defined discrete phenomenon with a defined discrete beginning and a defined discrete ending. This is true even though paradoxically there is this flowing blendable continual spiritual faith in the technological processes involved, even though most people have no real understanding of how they work. So most people today have a transcendent spiritual faith in a very concrete though, at the same time, mysterious technological process.
Mystery is the key word here. The mystery of today’s extremely complex technological processes blur into an almost religious wonder, the kind that surround traditional amulets and talismans. And both modern technological processes and traditional magical processes are powered by sources of energy that people can’t mentally grasp easily. But the fact that people can more easily control the presentations of modern technological processes and energy than the presentations of traditional magical processes and energy means that they can interact with the machine manifestations more easily. I would venture to say that these more frequent interactions lead to a kind of addiction. Modern technology ends up almost magically controlling its uses, particularly now that we have so many different wearable devices. The more people end up using modern technology, the more it ends up controlling them. Traditional magical events and experiences, because people can’t control when or where they will occur with the same accuracy, simply don’t have the same compelling effect on believers. Some might say that precisely because traditional magical powers are so unpredictable, that that would make people believe even more intensely to make them work. But I think that nothing convinces like successful outcomes. The effects of wearable devices are constant, the effects of traditional magic in terms of manifestations are more spread out. So paradoxically, today we are controlled by a more powerful magic than any that traditional cultures ever experienced.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow