The Unseen Internet: Conjuring the Occult in 21st Century Digital Discourse

Shira Chess (under contract). The Unseen Internet: Conjuring the Occult in 21st Century Digital Discourse. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Overview: Behind the glossy sheen of slick social media influencers and corporate oligopolies, the internet is built on a foundation of magic. The word “magic” here is not entirely metaphorical – although the metaphor is not irrelevant (Chun 2011). Historically the emergence of the internet was concurrent with esoteric thinking (Vallée 2003; Davis 1998/2015; Davis 2019; Slaughter 2020) that blended the technical with the occult in ways that are both seen and unseen by the casual user. To this point, our contemporary tech landscape often reflects an esoteric logic: tech entrepreneur Elon Musk believes there’s a one-in-a-billion chance that we are not living in a computer simulation (Virk 2019); people argue about culturally collective false memories popularly known as “Mandela Effects” (Prasad & Bainbridge 2022); young people on social media share their methods of shifting between realities and transforming facial features through subliminal audio recordings (Somer et al 2021); various factions engaged in a magic meme war leading up to the 2016 election (Lachman 2018; Asprem, 2020); strangers on the internet share secrets about “tulpamancy” (Somer et al 2021); and Twitter was in an uproar in September of 2022 over an AI generated spirit popularly named “Loab” (Coldewey 2022). The Unseen Internet is about the weird tensions between the occult and digital spaces in the 21st century, as an articulation of both the fantasies and anxieties of our current moment. These practices have resulted in distinct kinds of otherworldly discourse that affect the broader popular perceptions of reality in the 21st century, within and beyond the internet.

Shira Chess 

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