Animism and our Intimacy with Tech


We’re learning that humans can bond, form attachments and dedicate themselves to non-conscious objects or lifeless things with shocking ease

Animistic beliefs dominate the everyday lives of people in Southeast and East Asia, as I discovered while living there for several years. Local spirits, called neak ta in Cambodia, inhabit almost every farm, home, river, road and large tree. Thai people usually refer to these spirits as phii, and the Burmese call them nats. The next time you visit a Thai restaurant, notice the spirit house near the cash register or kitchen, probably decorated with offerings such as flowers, fruit, even a shot of alcohol. These offerings are designed to please neak ta and phii, but also to distract and pull mischievous spirits into the mini-homes, thereby saving the real homes from malady and misfortune. Animism was never entirely supplanted by modern beliefs, and we see it fancifully portrayed in the Japanese films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Like my relationship with Alexa, animists have the same as-if perspective toward their spirits. They understand that the shot glass of booze is not really consumed by the thankful ghost (it’s still there the next day), but they gently commit to it anyway.

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