The past year we have been frequently told that we’re living in a post-truth world; the term even became Word of the Year in the Oxford English Dictionary. At its core what this demonstrates is that words and their use are powerful. The fact we are even having this InMediaRes series is testament to this, for only a year ago at the start of 2016 the term was, for many, an obscurity.
It’s no accident that the linguistic magic of post-truth found fertile ground in cyberspace. From its inception, the utopian paradise that the World-Wide-Web promised was one whereby communication of all forms would be radically liberalized, freed from all constraints, good and bad.
This ideal was often promoted and justified by Stewart Brand’s frequently quoted line "Information wants to be free". The downside as to what this in an extreme could and would later entail was however actively disavowed in the prognostications of cyber-utopians.
Today as a direct result of this trajectory we find ourselves embroiled in a war of words and language; an often, but not exclusively, asymmetrical battle that rages to influence perception. This eventuality should not be at all that surprising, for it was often theorized by the likes of Baudrillard and Virilio in their analysis of contemporary techno-consumer society.
However, look further back in history and warnings of such potency echo through many occult texts. The bard figure was, for example, often most feared as they could, through trickster use of language, change how people viewed reality. If particularly skilled they could even change the way an individual viewed themselves.
When one breaks down what magic is, be it of the occult or stage variety, what it ultimately does is tell a story, it’s the power of narrative to change how we view the world. For example much of our contemporary positive thinking fads are based on such techniques. Why is this important? Because language is information and if we are living in an information age we need to learn what that entails. The founder of cybernetics himself, Norbert Weiner, was all too aware of this and deferred himself to magical metaphors, citing for example Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, to air related concerns. It would seem that the post-truth has rudely broken the spell of the cyber-utopians and we should now hopefully learn that online ‘We are as wizards, and might as well get good at it’
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