Mechanization, Automation, Animation: Enchanting the Human-Built World

If you’re paying any attention at all to news coming out of the tech sector, it’s hard to go a day without coming across a story about a new robot, app, or tool that promises (or threatens) to do what we previously did for ourselves. Some of these tasks involve physical labor, but increasingly they involve cognitive, emotional, and even ethical labor. Thinking carefully about the implications of this trend is, in my view, one of the most important tasks before us.

Taking a comment from Adam Thierer on a recent post about “smart-homes” as my point of departure, I propose that we think about the trend described above as a three-step process aimed at the enchantment of the human-built world.

In Adam’s view, as I read his comment, the “smartness” of the “smart home” is simply an extension of the many ways that we have already automated household tasks over the course of the last 100 years or so. Moreover, to my claim that a “smart home” is “an active technological system that requires maintenance and regulation,” Adam commented, “Even in the days of mud huts and log cabins that was somewhat true.”¹

In my initial response to Adam, I suggested that while it is true that more primitive homes, huts and cabins if you will, involved technology and might even be considered technological systems if we press the semantic range of that phrase a bit, there were important discontinuities as well. To clarify that claim, I began by making some distinctions using home heating as an example.

For most of human history, if I wanted warmth in my home I would need to build and sustain a fire of some sort. I could, for example, build a fire in a fireplace or I could light one in a coal burning stove. This would require a good deal of effort and caution. In short, it required a significant amount of engagement on my part, physical and mental.

Then along came the furnace and central heating. I no longer needed to build and sustain a fire. I could simply flip a switch and a machine would generate the heat and disperse it throughout my home. But I would hesitate to call this an instance of automation. Instead, let’s call it mechanization. Central heating, machine heating if you will, mechanizes the work of providing heat. And, of course, with that mechanization comes far less engagement on my part. In fact, this initial step is probably the most obvious and striking point of discontinuity in the evolution of home heating.

Add a thermostat and I no longer need to actively monitor the temperature in order to keep my home comfortably warm. I can set the thermostat at a toasty 73 degrees and trust the system to do the work for me. Ease of use continues to advance as my degree of engagement diminishes. Now, I think, we can talk about automation. Of course, thermostats of varying degrees of sophistication are available. The simplest models allow you to set just one temperature and require you to manually change that setting if you want the temperature to adjust over the course of the day. More elaborate, digital thermostats allow you to program a series of temperature changes throughout the course of the day and for different days of the week. All of these, however, allow me to automate the functioning of the machine. But, we should note, altering these settings still required direct action on my part.

It seems that the next step in this progression is something like Nest, a thermostat that “learns” your preferences and takes over management of the temperature for you. Nest is illustrative of the “smart” trend that promises something more than simple automation. Tools like Nest take automation further along the path toward autonomous functionality by “learning” to regulate themselves. Nest can also be controlled with a smart phone. In other words, it can be networked; it can “talk” to other devices. It is, then, a potential component of the assemblage of technologies that together constitute the so-called Internet of Things, one manifestation of which is the “smart home.” At this point, I am thoroughly disengaged from the process of providing heat for my home. I don’t need to cut wood or start a fire. I don’t need to flip a switch. I don’t need to adjust controls. Without labor, attention, or decisions on my part, my home is comfortably heated.

I remain uncertain about what to call this last step. Mechanization, automation, and … what?

In my previous post, I couldn’t quite resist an allusion to the famous scene in Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein where Dr. Frankenstein shouts, “It’s alive. It’s alive!” The allusion suggested “animation” a name for the third step after mechanization and automation. That strikes me as a provocative and vivid word choice, but it also threatens to mystify more than it clarifies. I mean the term in a figurative sense, but it may be too easy to suppose that something more literal is intended. Nonetheless, throwing caution to the wind, I’m going to go with animation, at least for the time being. Blogging is nothing, if not provisional, right?

So then, we have three discernible stages–mechanization, automation, animation–in the technological enchantment of the human-built world. The technological enchantment of the human-built world is the unforeseen consequence of the disenchantment of the natural world described by sociologists of modernity, Max Weber being the most notable. These sociologists claimed that modernity entailed the rationalization of the world and the purging of mystery, but they were only partly right. It might be better to say that the world was not so much disenchanted as it was differently enchanted. This displacement and redistribution of enchantment may be just as important a factor in shaping modernity as the putative disenchantment of nature.

In an offhand, stream-of-consciousness aside, I ventured that the allure of the smart-home, and similar technologies, arose from a latent desire to re-enchant the world. I’m doubling-down on that hypothesis. Here’s the working thesis: the ongoing technological enchantment of the human-built world is a corollary of the disenchantment of the natural world. The first movement yields the second, and the two are interwoven. To call this process of technological animation an enchantment of the human-built world is not merely a figurative post-hoc gloss on what has actually happened. Rather, the work of enchantment has been woven into the process all along.

In support of this claim we might consider, first, the entanglement of technology and magic just as the process of disenchantment is taking off in the early-modern period as well as the pervasive and, secondly, the persistent presence of the religion of technology within the western technological project.

I’m going to leave it at that for now. In a subsequent post, I’ll bring Hannah Arendt’s discussion of labor, work, and action into the discussion to help us think about the trade-offs involved in this enchantment of the human-built world.

[Discussion continued here: More On Mechanization, Automation, Animation.]


¹ There is a methodological question lying beneath the surface of this exchange: how do we wisely weigh the relevant degrees of continuity and discontinuity with older technology as we think about new technology? This can be tricky. There can be a tendency to exaggerate either the continuity or the discontinuity. In both cases, there would be nothing at all to learn because either nothing has changed and thus nothing needs to be learned, or else everything has changed and nothing of use can be learned. In the most unhelpful cases, both exaggerations are simultaneously affirmed. To generate hype, proponents of a new technology breathlessly proclaim its revolutionary character while at the same disingenuously allaying criticism by insisting the new revolutionary technology is really just like any number of other technologies that preceded it.



24 thoughts on “Mechanization, Automation, Animation: Enchanting the Human-Built World

  1. That’s a fascinating discussion you’re having. I have a hard time envisioning anything positive in all this, but I do have a tendency to immediately jump to, what could possibly go wrong here?

    Naturally I picture our smart homes developing artificial intelligence and imprisoning us all, our “Nest” thermostats, cranking up the heat until we comply. It’s bad enough when we start perceiving our inanimate objects as sentient things, but what happens if they start perceiving themselves that way?

  2. Michael:

    You state that, “the ongoing technological enchantment of the human-built world is a corollary of the disenchantment of the natural world,” and that “this process of technological animation” and “the work of enchantment has been woven into the process all along.”

    I’m inclined to agree, but I was waiting for you to finish your thought here. Is it the case that “the work of technological enchantment” now threatens to go too far? I think what you mean to suggest here (by extension from some of your earlier essays) is that something ominous awaits us in the third “discernible stage” in the “technological enchantment of the human-built world.” That is, as we transition from the mechanization and automation stages toward greater technological “animation,” as you label it, the suggestion is that something quite profound is being lost in the process (or could be lost in the future without us even realizing it).

    Is that a fair summation of the concern you’re getting at here as well as in some of your related recent essays? If so, let me just say that it’s a perfectly valid fear and one that sometimes keeps me up at night, too. As you know, I’m certainly not prepared to say that all new forms of automation or “technological animation” will leave us better off individually or collectively. I am, however, much more skeptical about our ability to preemptively forecast which of these forms of automation will do us in.

    I can’t help but feel that much modern technological criticism — especially recent criticism about automation — has an “enough-innovation-already!” sort of feel to it. The problem with surrendering to that temptation and throwing a wrench in the works is that a great many life-enhancing (and perhaps even life-extending and life-saving) innovations could be foregone.

    Of course, it would also be helpful if we could design a set of metrics by which we could make such assessments about previous forms of technological enchantment, their benefits and costs, and what we can learn from them today. We’ve had this discussion in a previous exchange [], in which I suggested that we simply may not be able to agree on the values and variables we use to make these determinations. For me, I place a very high value on things we can measure directly, including: life expectancy, GDP, per capita income, purchasing power, property and capital diffusion / ownership, time devoted to leisurely activities, etc. But I am fully aware that (a) not all measures are equal; (b) not all measures show signs of improvement; and (c) some non-quantifiable measures are profoundly important to bring into the discussion. I know this is probably a discussion for another day, but I can’t help but think we’ll just keep going round and round in circles until we come up with some agreed upon metrics for gauging what constitutes an improvement of the human condition.

    Regardless, to get back to the particular topic that started this discussion, I’ll just reiterate that, for me, “smart homes” just aren’t that big of a concern, even if they are somewhat representative of the general trend toward greater “technological animation” / automation that you and others fear. Yesterday morning, for example, I was pretty bummed when my household cleaning chores ended up taking up a lot more time than I expected. I found myself wanting a better Roomba vacuuming cleaning device as well as some sort of robotic assistance to clean 4 dirty toilets! The extra hour it took me to complete my cleaning chores was an hour I could have used to take my daughter to the batting cages or my son to the basketball court to practice their respective favorite sports. So, I say, give me more “technological animation” to get these chores out of my life and let me enjoy more quality time with my kids! (Hey Sacasas… you’re not against parents spending more time with their kids, are you?!)

    I’m just having fun with you, of course, but the underlying point is that there are tangible trade-offs at work here that lead many of us to want to greater degrees of “technological animation,” including the chance that we might save a little money or that more leisure time might become available to us. That’s the promise that Internet of Things or “smart home” technology holds for some of us. Yes, it’s also true that there are some B.S. home automation products being marketed which we probably don’t need. But I’m not too worried about that. The ones that offer us real value in terms of time and money saved will win out. Alas, once again, I’m not sure that metric means as much to some critics as it does to me! Instead, when I say something about the many real-world benefits of home automation, the critics typically offer up some sort of dystopian domino theory by which one little automation after another gradually eat up everything in sight and leaves us worse off in the long run. Or I get an earful about how we really don’t need all these new innovations and that the old ones give us just about everything we really need to get by (or some other variant of the “enough-innovation-already!” theory).

    As I noted in a recent long-winded rant [], I’m inclined to think that we’ll find a way to “muddle through” and find new and better ways of doing things and prospering in the process of dealing with the new forms of technological automation. Not without a fair amount of heartburn along the way, of course! Nonetheless, I remain unapologetically bullish about humanity’s ability to face the various stages of technological enchantment that you describe and still come out the better for it, just as we have many times before.

    In the meantime, hands off my Roomba, buddy!

    Cheers – Adam Thierer

    1. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that my significant other may have recently suggested that a Roomba would come in handy. I’m not sure how our beagle will feel about it, though!

      Regarding the post, just a couple of quick responses. With regards to what “animation” (I just realized some might take that to mean the house turns into a cartoon) portends for the future, I’m not sure. It will be a mixed bag certainly. Principally, I’m trying to work out a framework that will let us think about it more clearly and I’ll expand on that in another post in the next day or two. Of course, you’re right that perfect forecasting is not really possible (or necessarily desirable).

      Relatedly, as for the smart home, I’m not at all sure that it will materialize as boosters now predict or that it would be anything but banal if it did. That said, it does strike me as another instance of a larger pattern that taken as a whole will be consequential (note the ambiguity!), also, because it’s being talked about it seemed like an interesting topic on which to peg some speculations.

      As for “enough-innovation-already!” criticism, I think I know what you mean, and I hope I’m not falling into that mode. That would be equally as thoughtless as a devil-may-care plunge. As always, these posts are attempts at thinking out loud as it were. In part, because such thinking is part of the muddling through process (I’ve still to get that post by the way, but it’s on the docket). Exchanges of the sort we have, at least in my view, leave us better off because they’ve made us think (even if we don’t come to the same conclusions).

      As for your paragraph about our measures, that is vitally important. You wrote, “I place a very high value on things we can measure directly.” This is important, of course, it helps us ground our discussions, etc. But your qualifications are well-noted. I tend to be especially concerned with (c), the non-quantifiable measures, but I recognize that these are hard to get at and discuss as well as more challenging to act on. Any final judgments depend on them, though, as you suggest. In part, my approach has been first to figure out what is happening, to understand the trends and effects, so that, then, based on these larger moral or ethical concerns, we can act accordingly. In other words, knowing what kind of person we want to be and what kind of society we want to live in, we can ask of technology, will it help us achieve those goals.

      In the meantime, may your Roomba free up much time indeed to spend with your children!

    2. Two of your arguments resonate with me, a mom, a writer, and certainly not a high tech specialist:
      “I can’t help but feel that much modern technological criticism — especially recent criticism about automation — has an “enough-innovation-already!” sort of feel to it. The problem with surrendering to that temptation and throwing a wrench in the works is that a great many life-enhancing (and perhaps even life-extending and life-saving) innovations could be foregone.”
      And this one is really how I feel:
      “The extra hour it took me to complete my cleaning chores was an hour I could have used to take my daughter to the batting cages or my son to the basketball court to practice their respective favorite sports. So, I say, give me more “technological animation” to get these chores out of my life and let me enjoy more quality time with my kids! (Hey Sacasas… you’re not against parents spending more time with their kids, are you?!)”

      Yes to technology, and even animation, that allows us to have more quality time with our families, and friends or allows us more free time to write, paint, sculpt, explore our creativity.
      But let’s be careful about the consequences of too much animation on labor, workers’ rights, economic justice, because not everyone will be able to create these tools and not everyone will be able to afford them either.

      Thank you for another important post and for the very interesting feedback.
      Again, I’m neither a professor nor a tech person, but we are all concerned or should be.

    3. Adam,


      “I found myself wanting a better Roomba vacuuming cleaning device as well as some sort of robotic assistance to clean 4 dirty toilets!”

      The vacuum cleaner itself was, of course, introduced as a labor-saving device, and it was promoted by all manner of utopian-sounding advertisements promising lives of blissful leisure. But by altering social norms and expectations about cleanliness and other things, it actually had the effect of adding to the time devoted to housekeeping (as Ruth Schwartz Cowan, among others, has documented). The effects of labor-saving technology on how people actually live, and how parents and children interact, have proven to be extremely complicated. (What’s been the effect of the smartphone on parents’ engagement with their children, and vice versa, do you think?) And, moving to scatological matters, if your governing interest is to save time and money, then I would strongly suggest that, instead of purchasing expensive new self-cleaning toilets and hiring a plumber to install them, you simply return to the pre-technological practice of defecating in the woods. Economically, all the metrics suggest that that’s a no-brainer.

  3. Virtualization of life in advanced form is frightneing. If we give up will and power of choice in heating, cleaning, and other environmental and lifestyle necessities, how much erosion of self determination will continue to occur? From the mechanical/automated/animated to more and more personal. our lives will be circumscibred by others’ whose primary intention is to profit from it. Yes, stay closer to gardening, campfire and starlight before we lose all sense of our real place in the natural order and scheme of things.

  4. As a new reader of this blog, I’m going to go way out on a limb by contributing some thoughts that may not be welcome here. I agree that “the ongoing technological enchantment of the human-built world is a corollary of the disenchantment of the natural world.” I would like to add that I think the word “magic” is a catch-all bin where the Western mind places incomprehensible thought-worlds into. I recently read an eye-opening book by Louis Liebenberg, The Art of Tracking: the Origin of Science. In that book, Liebenberg asserts that indigenous peoples the world over use systematic and speculative methods in tracking their prey during hunts. I’d venture to say that the Western mind tosses the speculative methods in the “magic” bin and over-emphasizes the systematic methods. Starting in the time of Newton, the gap between systematic thinking and speculative thinking became more and more pronounced. The two forms of thinking were no longer linked – systematic thinking became predominant.

    I’ll go even further out on the limb by stating that I believe there is a trail that can be traced, starting with the transition from orality to literacy (the Toronto School) and ending in our present ecological nightmare. The transition from orality to literacy, which took over a thousand years to become noticeable, gave birth to capitalism in 14th century Europe, according to Wallerstein. Capitalism, in turn, because of its core requirement for the never-ending growth of profit, is inextricably linked to technology and its ever-increasing sophistication. You say there are three stages: mechanization, automation and animation. Yes, there are, but animation is not re-enchantment. “Smart” houses are a product of capitalism and its unending quest for profit, not some nebulous desire for enchantment. Those three stages are driven by capitalism, not by humanism.

    I realize that the thinking, if any, in this comment is a bit fuzzy, but it is a reflection of my never-ending quest for an answer to where homo sapiens sapiens went off the track. Need I say that I’m a neo-Luddite and a great fan of Wendell Berry and continental philosophy?

    1. Paul, your thoughts are quite welcome here. You’ll find this blog quite friendly to the Toronto School and the likes of Wendell Berry. Your points are well taken. In fact, you may want to follow the links above to two earlier posts about technology, magic, and capitalism.

      I’d make just one clarification, though. I’m not arguing that mechanization, automation, and animation lead to RE-enchantment. Rather I’d say it yields a differently enchanted world, one that is technologically enchanted. The differences would be pronounced, of course.

      Thanks for reading, and for the comment!

      1. A technologically enchanted world. Yes, I can get behind that. I think that is what Evan, in his comment, is pointing out. Capitalism’s unending quest for profit works hand-in-hand with and promotes technological enchantment. I see nothing wrong with David Simpson’s thoughts, either. But then, I’m a fan of Wendell Berry ….

  5. This piece set so many hares running, I just decided to let them go. One phrase caught my eye however.
    “Without labor, attention, or decisions on my part, my home is comfortably heated.” Our planet, comfortably heated by the sun, without labour, attention or decisions on our part (I have been living in the near perfect climate of Greece for the past year).

  6. Michael,

    I’m a fan of taxonomies and thus applaud your attempt to argue history might contain three distinct phases: mechanization, automation, animation. Since a robust theory goes beyond identifying transitions & explains their underlying causes, I’m sympathetic to you turning to the concept of “enchantment” to account for what appears to be a process of intensification.

    I’m skeptical, though, that the thesis is valid. Instead, I believe a simpler explanation can suffice.

    The early part of post reiterates key points in Albert Borgmann’s philosophy. There we learn devices are built to disburden us from hard work because we have a hard time appreciating the importance of labor and friction for cultivating virtue and living a life filled with meaningful experiences.

    In my opinion, the “outsourcing” at issue with IoT is an extension of the problem Borgmann identified. What makes it so troubling is that there are increasingly potent ways to: (1) experience the world passively that diminish our experience of practical and moral agency; and (2) externalize activities that affect how we express care and conscientiousness.

    One reason why these issues are so troubling is that they affect us in subtle ways that are hard to detect and easy to rationalize away through facile notions of tradeoffs. Additionally, status quo bias and over-confidence in our ability to muddle through makes tipping points hard to detect.

    Seen this way, your emphasis on enchantment seems like an unnecessary postulate. It helps explain something that can be accounted for in simpler terms. Moreover, one could ask: What evidence supports the assertion? I suspect most people see the tools at issue in purely instrumental terms, as something to be met with gee whiz, ain’t progress cool enthusiasm. They’ve got the same orientation as kids who think life-like toys are cool because they are more responsive and require less imagination to play with than inert ones.

    Of course, I could be wrong. As always, I’m looking forward to your further thoughts!


    1. Wait, so you mean I have to support my grandiose generalizations!

      Borgmann is, of course, lurking behind the scenes in this post, even the example of central heating is an homage of sorts! And I’m pretty sure you and I are in agreement about the enduring usefulness of his approach. In the follow-up to this post, which should come later this week, I am planning on making the connection to Borgmann explicit, especially with regards to mechanization and automation which, I think, fit nicely within the device paradigm. However, I was going to suggest that the device paradigm was in need of an update in order to account for the sorts of developments I’m considering under the concept of animation.

      That said, the enchantment thesis that I’ve coupled with the stages of animation came, at first, as an afterthought, but when it occurred to me, a few interesting pieces snapped together in my mind’s eye. Perhaps I’m guilty of being enchanted by my own idea, but I think there’s something to it. My gut tells me that something more than gee-whiz enthusiasm is at work in the way that technology is being developed and adopted. Tell me if you see this otherwise, but it seems that unless we adopt some sort of deterministic account of technological innovation (i.e., in all possible worlds tech can only develop in this way or that), then we need to account for the particular shape technology takes in our culture. Perhaps we are all simply rational actors seeking to optimize our efficiency, etc. and that alone accounts for it. I’m not sure I buy that, though. Wherein lies the appeal? What story do we buy into that generates the desire?

      It seems that there is something affective at work. I’m thinking also of the dynamic I was trying to get at in that piece about Glass that you and I talked about several months ago (it’s still in draft form somewhere). Boosters keep talking about the experience of power that Glass give them. This sort of thing folds neatly into the enchantment thesis. So to do the affective relationships that we form with our tools.

      But clearly I still need to do some work. I’m claiming that this is a differently enchanted world; I need to clarify what I mean by that. And you’re right, I need to put some teeth to the claim that this thesis is explanatory. For one thing, what exactly does it explain … individual choices, production decisions, large historical trends, forces at work below the level of conscious reflection? And, of course, what kind of evidence can I adduce for the claim?

      Bottom line, thanks for the comment, it will help me thinking more rigorously moving forward. It may very well be an unsustainable thesis in the long run, in which case, you’ll be entitled to an “I told you so.” In any case, you’ve put Occam’s razor in mind, and that’s a good thing.

  7. Michael, enjoyed this and the discussion.

    One aspect you may want to add to your approach is how the smart home functions as a direct feedback device for the larger economic system. The smart home is likely to not only regulate its functions, but to send its data (sparse or thin data) back to at least the manufacturer, and then probably sold to additional parties. The data a smart home generates may become as significant a revenue stream as the purchase and maintenance of the smartness itself.

    Many will experience this as surveillance. I think some level of awareness of this contributes to the discomfort many may feel when faced with these developments. My dystopic thoughts on this anxiety can be found here:

    1. Excellent point. Off the cuff, leads me to remember that enchantment has always been fraught with anxieties and fear. An enchanted world is a dangerous world. Of course, the dangers and anxieties of a technologically enchanted world will be different than those of the pre-modern world. Thanks for the insight and the link.

  8. This is a great discussion! One thought to add: I’m hoping that as automation technology increases in our lives and displaces the tasks we normally would do (either at home or at work) on a day to day basis, we aren’t left just twiddling our thumbs searching for the ‘Top 10 Facebook Quizzes.’ My hope is that we as a race – when left with extra time – will actually find a way to better apply ourselves to more interesting and meaningful thoughts and activities. When we as a species shifted from foraging to agricultural, it led in turn to the development of artisans and craftsmen. I’m an optimist, but I’m hoping that the next phase of human society – whatever it might be – develops along more meaningful lines.

  9. Thoughtful post, as always. Your title reminded me of Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s book Disenchanted Night, on the cultural and social ramifications of the shift from lighting-by-flame to lighting-by-electricity. You’ve probably already read it, but if not I think you’d find it – dare I say? – illuminating.

    The idea that reenchantment of the human-built world accompanies disenchantment of the natural world is a fascinating one. It’s possible to argue that the use of the term “reenchantment” may itself be a form of enchantment, a means of putting a magical gloss on a trend governed by fairly mundane, if often hidden, motivations. A better word for “reenchantment” might be “mystification.”

    1. In fact, I was not aware of Disenchanted Night, so thanks for the recommendation.

      Regarding enchantment/mystification, point taken. Two sides of the same coin perhaps. Similarly, I wonder if the more mundane motives exist alongside of other more esoteric, hidden forces.

      1. Another passing thought: I wonder if your animation category reflects a metaphorical distinction rather than a technical one. Whereas there’s a pretty clear technical distinction between mechanization and automation (with the later introducing sensing, feedback, and self-regulating controls), I’m not sure I see a technical distinction between automation and animation, as you’ve set them out. In other words, home automation may seem more “animated” than, say, factory automation or aviation automation, but at a technical level they’re actually the same. I raise this not because I think there’s anything wrong with metaphorical distinctions (I don’t) but just for the purposes of taxonomic clarity, if that makes sense.

        1. Good question. I’m still thinking about the answer though. I’m inclined to say that more than a metaphorical distinction is involved, but I need to formulate that distinction more precisely. I’m working on a post that will take a step or two in that direction, but it’ll take a subsequent post to consider the question in more depth. Briefly, here, I’ll say that there is a difference in functionality that I have in mind, one that perhaps does not rest on significantly different technical apparatus. Chiefly, I’m thinking of the functionality made possible by technology that is networked and programmed to learn and act on its own. So, for example, I’m thinking of it as the difference between a car with automatic and cruise control on the one hand, and a self-driving car on the other.

  10. Excellent post, Mike. I think ‘animation’ works as well as anything else. I’ve often observed different “phrases” of technological development, as you have. However, I don’t have a better term on the latter development to offer at the moment.

  11. This may be of historical interest to those of you who’ve commented above:

    “Cease from grinding, ye women who toil at the mill; sleep late even if the crowing cocks announce the dawn. For Demeter has ordered the Nymphs to perform the work of your hands, and they, leaping down on the top of the wheel, turn its axle which, with its revolving spokes, turns the heavy concave Nisyrian millstones. We taste again the joys of the primitive life, learning to feast on the products of Demeter without labor.”

    Sounds enchanting, no?

    That was Antipater of Thessalonica, writing in the first century about new water-powered mills. I came across it in Lewis Mumford’s Technics and Civilization.

  12. I read Michael’s reply to Nick Carr, regarding the book Disenchanted Night which I haven’t read. Curious, I entered “Wolfgang Schivelbusch” in a search engine and found this introduction to an issue of Telos in the Wikipedia entry on Schivelbusch. Is not secularism, in fact, disenchantment from the natural world? I think the introductory essay, by Russell A. Berman, is thought-provoking.

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