MAGIC vs TECHNOLOGY

We all know that we live in a world of Technology rather than one of Magic.

Don’t we?

Arthur C. Clarke once said “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” When you can’t explain a thing by any concepts with which you are familiar or which you can deduce from what you know the only other explanation is… magic.

I grew up as something of a nerd familiar with a slide rule, building and flying model rockets and similar activities. I was not only deeply into technology but, like many nerds, into the fantasy world of D&D and similar pursuits. Perhaps as a nerd you need a break from technology occasionally.

The world of magic such as in D&D and other fantasy worlds is one where the mages, or magic users, possess arcane, occult (which simply means “hidden”) knowledge that gives them the ability to perform wonders. Normal people are limited to the tools of the physical world which they can understand and create for themselves.

The mages of course understand the “normal” world and are subject to it’s rules and limitations but possess a “higher” knowledge that gives them tremendous power beyond that of mere “normals”.

The normal people are at a tremendous disadvantage since so much power is in the hands of the mages. Thus the never ending quest to obtain and possess “magical” artifacts; magic swords, potions, magical shields, crystal balls, staffs of light, etc. Many stories revolve around the quest to obtain such knowledge or a powerful magical artifact or to destroy such an artifact in order to save the world or some part of it.

Which brings us back to whether we live in a world of Technology or Magic.

Growing up in the 50s and 60 we all understood the technology that existed around us like cars and electronics. While some of it was advanced like the race to the moon we still understood the fundamental concepts upon which the technology was based. Pretty much everyone knew the basics of auto mechanics of had a friend or family member who knew even more.

In school we were all taught the basics of how planes flew, how rockets worked, how electricity and radio functioned. So we lived in a world where the technology was familiar, comfortable and always knew that if we really put our mind to it we could learn all about any specific technology.

Which again brings us back to whether we live in a world of Technology or Magic.

Look around your own personal world today. Look at the computers, the TVs, cell phones, GPS in your car, the car itself. How much of it do you actually understand? Do you know the fundamental concepts of how an LCD TV works? Do you know how your computer works? Do you understand how the cable box that brings television to your LCD TV functions or how the DVR works?

If your car stops running do you have any idea what to check before calling the tow truck?

Are you a Mage or a Normal?

It strikes me at times that some of the items I see people using in their daily lives are quite like the “magical” artifacts of fantasy stories. The cell phone that teenagers use to send pictures to strangers all over the world are actually quite a bit more powerful than many of the magical devices in stories.

In Lord of the Rings Saruman the White Wizard had a magic crystal ball that allowed him to see things at a great distance. By comparison today’s webcams and drones make his crystal ball look rather primitive.

Yet they bear striking similarities…

The person using them didn’t make them. They not only didn’t make them but actually have no real idea of how they work. They almost certainly can’t repair them if they stop functioning. They have to take it to a local “mage”, i.e. someone possessing arcane, occult knowledge, to restore the magic in it.

We might as well call it magic because most of us do not understand the technology we use. The schools don’t teach that knowledge. Oh they teach you how to USE the technology, keyboarding (instead of typing), programming instead of woodshop, browsing instead of library science. But the reality is that few people outside of the technical professions really have any idea how most of the technology around them works.

I know people with cars with so many functions built into them that the User’s Manual is an inch think. The owners have given up trying to figure out all of the controls and only use the few functions that they can grasp intuitively. They aren’t stupid people but the level of complexity is such that it’s difficult to retain the complex procedures when the car is not used constantly.

So despite what we call it most people today don’t live in a world of “technology”. They live in a world of “magic” where the mages provide the magical artifacts which they use and which they do not actually understand.

More worrisome is that even many of the “mages” don’t truly understand the technology they use. Few of the people working in the IT world could actually build a computer if they had to. Oh sure they could assemble components, motherboards, power supplies, cpus, ram, graphics cards into a case to build a functioning computer but could they build the cpu or the motherboard themselves? No they couldn’t.

Few of the engineers who actually design the motherboards or the cpus could build one either. They know circuity but they know little or nothing of the materials science required to create the cpu chip.

The world we live in today blurs many of the lines between the terms “technology” and “magic”.

The ability to be self sufficient grows further and further away from us everyday. More importantly our dependence on the “mages” and their magical artifacts grows every day.

The Librarian

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