Why Tech Needs its Own Mythology Now More Than Ever
In many ways tech has already been mythologized. We throw phrases around like Tech Giants without realizing we are referring to a rich history of mythology of Titanic proportions.
The tech community already has all the elements in place to write its own mythology, replete with gods, muses, angels, heroes, magical talismans, and most importantly, ethics.
Without learning from the morals of myth, tech companies will find themselves going the route of Altavista at best, and Skynet at worst. But even when an entrepreneur fails, he can still use mythology to acquire wisdom about life, death, and reincarnation.
The tech community has all the motifs to write its own great mythology, and that mythology has something valuable to teach us all, even if its hubris leads us all to the brink of singularity.
Let us run through five essential motifs and archetypes of mythology, and let’s discover how these all apply to every aspect of technological advancement as we know it today.
Afterwards, we can use these archetypes to write a whole new chapter in the mythology of tech.
Every technological advancement begins with a dreamer. Today’s dreamers are the entrepreneurs. They are the ones that must undergo a journey of transformation, after which, they will never be the same.
Entrepreneurs are often the eccentrics — the crazy ones that don’t always follow the rules, but forge new paths on towards providing a better service to society.
For the entrepreneur, inspiration may derive from the little voices in his head, from his parents, his teachers, or something else like the muses of classical Greek mythology.
The entrepreneur may be a god like Apollo in his own right — one that creates and inspires — one who calls forth to action what he has conspired in moments of deep meditation and contemplation, or one he conceived in a brilliant, flashing moment of realization.
The dreamer; however, will need help in realizing his vision.
2) Developers and designers
But the entrepreneur, in relation to mythology, cannot do everything on his own. He needs demigods to make everything happen. These demigods are today’s developers and graphic designers. They are the ones who actually make the magic.
Developers, like an ancient priesthood, have their own language and code that most of us will never understand. A developer’s code is like a magical spell through which the impossible can be made manifest.
In the beginning there was the word. Once the first word was spoken, it was a moment of self-realization that sprang forth into being all that there is. The developers of today carry on that tradition with every line of code they write. Every tab, space, and backslash is a hearkening back to the beginning of creation.
There is a fetching myth about former US President Eisenhower and the first computers discussed in The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers.
Eisenhower went into a room full of computer and he asked these machines, “Is there a god?” And they all start up, and the lights flash, and the wheels turn, and after a while a voice says, “Now there is.”
Additionally, graphic designers are the artists and poets that breathe visual life into the creation. They represent aesthetic beauty, and in many cases draw upon nature as references when designing their art.
So, what type of magic are these modern-day gods and demigods creating in the world of tech?
3) The product
Technology is a way of doing something better. It helps ease the burden of mankind, just as the gods created mankind to help ease the burden of labor in the mystical garden.
In mythology, the hero is often accompanied by a magic talisman that aids him in his quest of self-discovery. These magic talismans can be a cloak of invisibility like in Harry Potter, or they can be like magic seeing stone the Palantir from The Lord of the Rings.
In the tech world, these magic talismans are the products that go to market. They are objects that provide a service to mankind like an iPhone or a magic ring. Alternatively, these objects can also lead to ruin like Snow White’s poisoned apple or a potential AI superintelligence that wipes us all out.
Once the dreamer or god conceives of creation, he calls upon his demigods to create the magic. Next, he wants to shout from a mountain as a herald to world about the goodness of his creation. This is where the angels and shamans come in to play.
4) PR, Journalism, and Storytelling
“Angels” is another word we throw around without grasping its entire significance. To many, angels are winged creatures with halos. In the tech community they are investors, but what the word “angel” literally means is “emissary” or “messenger.”
In mythology the shamans and angels are the messengers. They communicate directly with the source to deliver its message to the world.
Storytellers, journalists, and PR specialists are the tech world’s answer to the ancient archetype of shamans and angels. Their job is to receive messages from other realms and interpret these messages in a way that humanity will understand.
A shaman goes into a cave and has a mystical experience. He then interprets and relays his vision to the community. A journalist goes into the field to collect information. He then relays his version of the truth to the community.
The angels of today, in the most literal sense of the word, are the storytellers. They are the ones who interpret the dreamers – the entrepreneurs.
5) Life, Death, Resurrection, and Transformation
The common themes of life, death, and resurrection in mythology mimic exactly what happens in the business world of tech.
There will always be failure in life, but what one chooses to do with failure defines the entrepreneur’s legacy.
Many religions are born from myths about the cycles of the stars and planets. The story of Jesus, Horus, or Mithra is the same as the sun as it goes through its symbolic death in the Winter and rebirth in the Spring.
With each rebirth or reincarnation, the sun or god is transformed into something new. It pivots.
In the mythology of tech, we have platforms like Netscape and Internet Explorer. At one time they were the biggest rivals in their space, but after going through battle and the cycles of time, Netscape was bought by AOL (another former Titan of Tech) and its spirit now survives in the form of Mozilla Firefox.
Likewise, Internet Explorer lived its life, died, and was resurrected as Edge.
I could go on and on about the mythological cycle of life, death, and resurrection in the tech world, but let us now continue on with a deeper understanding of how mythology relates to tech.
The Function of Mythology in Tech
The purpose of mythology, according to the greatest mythologist of the 20th Century, Joseph Campbell, is to serve four functions.
1) The mystical function — realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery.
This is the big bang moment of realization the tech entrepreneur has when his dream takes form.
2) A cosmological dimension — the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through.
In the mythology of tech, this is about how the entrepreneur’s vision can be physically realized and expressed in the greater context of a particular industry, market, or society.
3) The sociological function – supporting and validating a certain social order. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world.
This has to do with creating a technology that not only benefits society, but fits within its system of values.
4) The pedagogical function – how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.
This is where tech companies can get into trouble. If the product or service is ego or money-driven and throws ethics out the door, it will eventually crumble.
Why tech needs mythology
The tech world needs its own mythology, now more than ever, lest its corporations become the monsters, demons, and fallen angels of the past — forever in pursuit of material gains that leave society soulless and the future bleak.
If the tech community does not follow the morals of mythology, it is doomed to die, or do even worse for humanity. If an amoral tech company were likened to parts on a wheel, it would be the rim. It would ride high one day, but eventually is brought to the bottom.
Tech companies and entrepreneurs alike need to be the hub or cog of the wheel. That way they are always in the middle; always centered and ready to adapt to whatever bumps that lie ahead.
Since the tech world has all the above elements of mythology in place, the only thing left is to adhere to its ethics. Mythology teaches us in so many ways how to live a virtuous life, and it provides valuable lessons in humility for those who don’t.
The threats of technology come in many forms. Today, we have cameras that can spy on almost any part of the world, government hacking programs that raise serious privacy concerns, software that can launch missiles at the press of a button, and the as-of-yet unknown threat of Artificial Intelligence if it ever reaches a singularity and sees humans as a threat to survival.
In the centuries to come, will Steve Jobs be remembered as a Buddha? Will Bill Gates be memorialized as a Centaur or Janus for his dual life of software and vaccines? Will Mark Cuban be likened to the great Mayan warriors who literally gave their lives to the ball game?
We are at a crossroad with our technology, and that crossroad is where the hero of the mythological journey must make a decision — continue to go down the same path where others have trodden to ruin, or blaze a new trail out of the darkness of the wood and into the illumination of light.
That hero is you and me. We are the employees and the workers. We are the dreamers and the weavers of magic. We are the heralds of the world. We all undergo the journey, and we must transform ourselves through the magic of myth and bring that moral magic back into the world of technology.