As part of the efforts to initiate the “Phase 2” of containment for the Covid-19 epidemics, the Italian government recently announced the launch of a new app, called “Immuni,” to track contacts between people and highlight the risk of contagions. The tool will be developed by the leading company in Italy for digital apps: Bending Spoons.
The name of the Milan-based company recalls the celebrated feats of psychic celebrity Uri Geller, who became famous for his alleged ability to bend spoons with the power of his mind. Conceiving his psychic activities as an act of showmanship, Geller performed over several decades in platforms including theaters, public halls, TV programmes and more recently, social media. In the above video, sponsored in 2015 by Kellogs UK as part of an advertising campaign, he mimics the format of Web tutorials to teach the public the “secret” of bending spoons. “Believe, be positive,” Geller instructs those who want to imitate him.
Reading the “Manifesto” published by the app developing company Bending Spoons, the similarity of tone cannot escape. “We disrupt,” “we’re climbers,” “we’re a tribe,” to put it in four words “we are bending spoons,” proclaims the company’s manifesto. While the interrelations between the New Age and the techno-utopianism that emerged around the myth of the digital revolution in the late 1970s has been widely documented (e.g. Turner, 2006; Voss, 2013), little attention has been given to the fact that the two share one core aspiration: “bending reality” to our will. The secret behind Uri Geller’s mysticism and behind the techno-mysticism of digital media is (as Geller himself puts it in the video) “total belief.” And who professes a more firm belief than the self-proclaimed hackers of companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple? (Bucher, 2018: 69-72; see Natale and Pasulka, 2019). Ultimately, the experienced psychic/showman Uri Geller and the techno-utopians who moved from Silicon Valley to conquer the entire world take up the same ideological assumption. For Geller, believing in one’s ability is the key to change physical reality; for techno-utopians, their belief in the unlimited power of computing technology is the key to fold reality to their will.
In the middle of the coronavirus epidemics, as the natural world exercises its power over human things, the feeling of powerlessness experienced by many of us is tentatively dispelled by the renewal of a dream that “Bending spoons” embodies in its very company name. After the initial enthusiasm over the “Immuni” app, however, public discussions in Italy gradually became more cautious. Some underlined that, unless 70% of the population will download the app - an unlikely target according to many -, its impact will be very limited. Criticism also arose against the potential implications for privacy. In the wake of the controversy, some suggest that the potential benefits of the app should be reassessed.
Once again, we are reminded that bending spoons is, after all, just a feat of legerdemain.
Bucher, Taina. If... then: Algorithmic power and politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Natale, Simone and Pasulka, Diana. Believing in bits: Digital media and the supernatural. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Turner, Fred. From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Voss, Ehler. "California Dreamin’. Die Erfindung des Neoschamanismus als mediumistische Probe des 20. Jahrhunderts." Historische Anthropologie 21, no. 3 (2013): 367-386.