Modern Technology as Magic
by Adrian Tawfik
July 7, 2012
The spread of technology has been a driving force in history. Overturning old concepts of what is possible has often been accomplished with increasing frequency through the work of individual entrepreneurs and inventors. Technology has accompanied every advance in human society. Yet all along humans have come pre-programmed with an ability to undergo this process of change. One way to conceptualize the innate ability of people to easily adapt themselves to new technology is to consider technology as somewhat akin to magic – at least in the view of the average new user.
From the perspective of many people including members of a theoretical lost tribe in the jungle or even the millions of people who do not understand basic facts about modern science, there is often little difference between magic and technology. Someone who has never had access to modern science may very well conceptualize modern technology as a form of magic much like the tourist visiting CERN’s now famous Large Hadron Collider currently peeling back the mysteries of the universe in Switzerland.
Yet, the same people are able to understand the limitations of modern technology like cell phones or laptops when showed how to use them. This is perhaps because magic and the supernatural in human traditions have often had limitations on power. Examples include the Samson of the Bible whose limit was his hair or Greek and Indian gods whose use of their own magic powers would have colorful repercussions depending often on their very human faults. Superman and his vulnerability to Kryptonite is an another example or the ring in the hobbit that only makes the person invisible but not actually disappear so that your foot prints could be seen in the snow or your finger could be bitten off while invisible.
Modern technologies are very similar to these types of magic. The belief in the possibility of the impossible is engrained in the human spirit. Technology can be at once conceptually unbelievable to people who don’t understand science’s inner workings and at the same time its limitations can be understood by those same people in regards to functionality. The concept of showing an iPhone to people in places like an unconnected tribe in the Amazon is like the presentation of magic to them and it might just be that they are evolutionarily built like all of us to easily and happily go along with that wonderful new idea.