DORTMUND, Germany — “Let’s use smartphones and tarot cards to connect to spirits,” reads the writing on the wall, illuminated in soft ultraviolet light. “Let’s manufacture D.I.Y. devices to listen to invisible worlds.”
The incantations, printed as wallpaper, are part of the French artist Lucile Olympe Haute’s “Cyberwitches Manifesto,” an installation in a show called “Technoshamanism” that is at the Hartware MedienKunstVerein in Dortmund, Germany, through March 6, 2022. The group exhibition, which brings together the work of 12 artists and collectives, explores the connections between technology and esoteric, ancestral belief systems.
In our always-online lives, the supernatural is having a high-tech moment. Spirituality is all over our feeds: The self-help guru Deepak Chopra has co-founded his own NFT platform, witches are reading tarot on TikTok, and the A.I.-driven astrology app Co-Star has been downloaded more than 20 million times.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Tolbert, an assistant professor of belief and digital ethnography at Penn State Harrisburg has an explanation. “Because of the globalizing potential of the internet, people have access to belief traditions that were not easily accessible to them before,” he said. In the United States, a growing number of people identify as “spiritual” but not “religious,” he noted, adding that the internet allowed those people to discover, select and combine the spiritual traditions that most appealed to them.
The curator of “Technoshamanism,” Inke Arns, said on a recent tour of the show that contemporary artists also recognized the widespread presence of esoteric spirituality in the digital space. “I was asking myself, ‘How come, in different parts of the world, there is this strange interest in not only reactivating ancestral knowledge but bringing this together with technology?’” she said.
Often, for artists, the answer comes down to anxiety about the environment, Arns said. “People realize we are in a very dire situation,” she added, “from burning coal and fossil fuels. And it’s not stopping.” Ancient belief systems that were more in tune with nature, combined with new technology, were providing a sense of hope for artists in facing the climate crisis, she said.
While technological progress is often seen as damaging to the environment, artists, Indigenous activists and hackers were trying to reclaim technology for their own, esoteric purposes, said Fabiane Borges, a Brazilian researcher and member of a network called Tecnoxamanismo. That collective organizes meetings and festivals in which participants use devices including D.I.Y.-hacked robots to connect with ancestral belief systems and the natural world.
In the Dortmund show, a sense of hope shines through in several works that imagine a future for humans beyond Earth. Fifty prints by the British artist Suzanne Treister from the series “Technoshamanic Systems: New Cosmological Models for Survival” fill one wall of the museum, dreaming spiritual possibilities for the survival of our species.
Treister’s neat, colorful works on paper feature flying saucers and stars laid out in a kabbalah tree-of-life diagram, and blueprints for imagined scientific systems and extraterrestrial architecture. As billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos look to outer space as the next frontier for human expansion, Treister has imagined a utopian alternative: space exploration as a process in which rituals and visions play as much of a role as solar power and artificial intelligence.
Many esoteric practices connect communities to a higher power, Arns said, which is why outer space features in so many contemporary artists’ explorations of spirituality. “It’s making a link between the microcosm and macrocosm,” she added, creating “an idea of a world that doesn’t only include the Earth.”
Technologists have, of course, come up with a more digital way to enter new worlds: virtual reality. Many of V.R.’s founders were interested in psychedelic experiences, a common feature of shamanic rituals. (The recent boom in ayahuasca ceremonies, where participants drink a psychoactive brew, shows that the attraction remains strong.) Researchers at the University of Sussex, in England, even used V.R. to attempt replicating a magic mushroom hallucination.
In the “Technoshamanism” show in Dortmund, several works offer the viewer trippy visions. Morehshin Allahyari’s V.R. work “She Who Sees the Unknown” conjures a sinister female djinn; at the artist’s request, the V.R. headset is worn lying down in the darkened space so that the malevolent spirit hovers menacingly over the viewer. Another work, experienced through augmented-reality glasses, leads the viewer through a meditative ritual in a gigantic papier-mâché shrine, weaving a spiraling light path with video holograms.
Rather than inventing their own virtual spiritual sites, other artists try to uncover the lost meaning of some that already exist. Tabita Rezaire, for example, whose website describes her as “infinity incarnated into an agent of healing,” is showing a film installation exploring megalithic stone circles in Gambia and Senegal. In a film playing on a flat-screen TV laid out on the museum floor, Rezaire investigates the original purpose of the ancient sites through documentary interviews with their local guardians, as well as with astronomers and archaeologists. Drawing on numerology, astrology and traditional African understanding of the cosmos, the interviews are superimposed into hypnotic CGI visualizations of outer space.
Technology and spirituality could also come together to preserve ancient cultural practices that might otherwise be lost, Borges, the researcher, said. She recalled that, at a 2016 festival organized by her network in Bahia, Brazil, teenagers with cellphones had recorded a full-moon ritual performed by members of the Pataxó, an Indigenous community. The footage, which showed Pataxó people speaking their ancient language in a trance, was later passed to local university researchers who are at work on expanding a dictionary, Borges said.
Interactions between new tools and esoteric practices can be seen across all sorts of mystical practices, Tolbert of Penn State said. “Technology has always been a part of spirituality,” he noted, citing psychic mediums hosting their own Facebook groups and ghost hunters using electromagnetic field detectors. “Most of them don’t see it, I think, as presenting any kind of a conflict,” he added.
Perhaps, then, as the “Cyberwitches Manifesto” suggests, there is more common ground than might be expected between the hackers and the witches, the programmers and the psychics. As Tolbert put it: “What is technology, if not a way for an individual person to uncover answers?”
Twitter Will Take Down Pictures of People Posted Without Their Permission
A sweeping expansion of Twitter’s policy against posting private information was met with backlash shortly after the company announced it on Tuesday, as Twitter users questioned whether the policy would be practical to enforce.
Twitter’s new policy states that photos or videos of private individuals that are posted without their permission will be taken down at their request. Twitter’s rules already prohibit the posting of private information like addresses, phone numbers and medical records.
“When we are notified by individuals depicted, or by an authorized representative, that they did not consent to having their private image or video shared, we will remove it,” Twitter’s new policy states. “This policy is not applicable to media featuring public figures or individuals when media and accompanying tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”
The policy goes further than U.S. law, which allows people to be photographed or filmed in public places. Under Twitter’s policy, people could request that photos of them be taken down even if the images were taken in public.
But Twitter said that its policy is consistent with privacy laws in the European Union and elsewhere and that it had already removed photos of private individuals in those locations, consistent with local laws.
The new policy will extend privacy rights to users in countries that do not have similar laws, a Twitter spokeswoman said. Under Twitter’s policy, a user could have a photo removed if it was used to harass them or if they simply did not like the photo.
Twitter plans to make exceptions for newsworthy images and videos, and the company will take into consideration whether the image was publicly available, was being used by traditional news outlets or was “relevant to the community.”
“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared, and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” the policy said.
The head of Meta’s cryptocurrency efforts is leaving the company.
Mr. Marcus, 48, a longtime Silicon Valley executive in payments and digital finance, worked on many projects during his seven years at the social media company. Most recently, he spearheaded Meta’s push into a global digital currency that could be used by Facebook and WhatsApp users to transmit payments across borders. The project, initially called Libra, was later rebranded Diem after facing pushback from regulators.
“I remain as passionate as ever about the need for change in our payments and financial systems,” Mr. Marcus said in a series of tweets. “My entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it.”
Mr. Marcus founded Zong, a mobile payments start-up that was acquired by the digital finance giant PayPal. After rising quickly at PayPal, he was recruited to Facebook to lead its Messenger app, growing it to reach hundreds of millions of users.
While at Facebook, Mr. Marcus was heavily involved in the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, acting as an adviser to companies like Coinbase.
He parlayed that knowledge into Libra, which was a pet project of Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive. Libra was an attempt to democratize finance so that people could use Facebook’s apps — including Messenger and WhatsApp — to send cryptocurrency to one another across the world, which they could eventually exchange for local currencies.
The project stalled when a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers questioned the company’s efforts and how much power the social network had over global social media. Mr. Marcus testified about the efforts to Congress in 2019, though it did little to assuage concerns.
The Libra cryptocurrency was eventually rebranded Diem, while the company’s efforts at a crypto wallet were called Novi. The mishmash of names often has been confusing, even for company insiders.
Mr. Marcus did not specify his future plans. Spokespeople for Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jack Dorsey’s Twitter Departure Hints at Big Tech’s Restlessness
“I don’t think there’s anything more important in my lifetime to work on, and I don’t think there’s anything more enabling for people around the world,” he told the audience at a Bitcoin conference in Miami in June.
Mr. Dorsey, whose oracular beard and quirky wellness routines have made him something of a cult figure in Silicon Valley, has become a crypto influencer in recent months. Bitcoin fans cheered his resignation on Monday, assuming he’d be spending his newfound free time championing their cause. (A more likely scenario is that he’ll continue to push crypto projects at Square, where he’s already started building a decentralized finance business.)
Mr. Dorsey didn’t respond to a request for comment, so I can’t be totally sure what’s behind his exit, but it’s easy to see why he would be getting restless at Twitter after more than 15 years of involvement. He cut his teeth during the internet boom of the late 2000s and early 2010s, when being a co-founder of a hot social media app was a pretty great gig. You got invited to fancy conferences, investors showered you with money and the media heralded you as a disruptive innovator. If you were lucky, you even got invited to the White House to hang out with President Barack Obama. Social media was changing the world — Kony 2012! The Arab Spring! — and as long as your usage numbers kept moving in the right direction, life was good.
Today, running a giant social media company is — by the looks of it — pretty miserable. Sure, you’re rich and famous, but you spend your days managing a bloated bureaucracy and getting blamed for the downfall of society. Instead of disrupting and innovating, you sit in boring meetings and fly to Washington so politicians can yell at you. The cool kids no longer want to work for you — they’re busy flipping NFTs and building DeFi apps in web3 — and regulators are breathing down your neck.
In many ways, today’s crypto scene has inherited the loose, freewheeling spirit of the early social media companies. Crypto start-ups are raising tons of money, attracting huge amounts of hype and setting off on utopian-sounding missions of changing the world. The crypto universe is full of weird geniuses with unusual pedigrees and big appetites for risk, and web3 — a vision for a decentralized internet built around blockchains — contains lots of the kinds of complex technical problems that engineers love to solve. Those factors, plus the enormous sums of money flowing into crypto, have made it a tempting landing spot for burned-out tech employees looking to get back in touch with their youthful optimism — and maybe for C.E.O.s, too.
“Silicon Valley tech is the old guard, distributed crypto is the frontier,” Naval Ravikant, another crypto booster and an early Twitter investor, tweeted this month.
Square, which builds mobile payment systems, has always been the most natural outlet for Mr. Dorsey’s crypto dreams. But he has tried to incorporate some of Bitcoin’s principles into Twitter. The company added Bitcoin tipping and started a decentralization project called Bluesky last year, with the goal of creating an open protocol that would allow outside developers to build Twitter-like social networks with different rules and features from the main Twitter app. (Mr. Agrawal, who is taking over for Mr. Dorsey at Twitter, has been closely involved with these initiatives, meaning they probably won’t disappear when Mr. Dorsey does.)