Modern Mythologies, the Media and the Social Presence of Technology

Peppino Ortoleva


Modern myth-making, different from that of classic polytheism in that it continuously create “new” stories along old patterns, instead of re-narrating more of the same, has invention, inventors and technologies among its major subjects. This may seem paradoxical, since in our society technology is generally associated with cold and even impersonal rationality, whereas myths seem to deal more with dreams and emotional needs. But in a society characterised by an overwhelming presence of technology and at the same time by a largely spread unfamiliarity with the hows and whys of its working, myth is one of the shortest ways to bridge the gap, to create an impression of personal acquaintance: with the inventors if not with their mental processes, with the familiar and ever-repeating tòpoi of their heroic achievements if not with the scientific backgrounds of their projects. In time myths have become less and less simple narrations, and have been progressively incorporated into the machines themselves, and the interfaces they exhibit. This is particularly true of some objects, from radio receivers to computers, that are the most visible part of our media environment.

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