Thursday, January 5, 2012

Magic vs Technology and the Wonder Factor In Fairy Tales

This is the ad that's currently being played on's Once upon A Time website. The idea is that you don't need magic to do all these these, just Blue Link. I kind of wish the magic option was available. Or maybe it's better to think of technology like this as actual "magic". Our ancestors certainly would have thought that's what we were using!

Clarke's third law states: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I had a whole conversation with a friend on Twitter about a year ago, talking about how our use of the internet in particular could very well be seen as magic. Heck, we even tap into grounding magics and unseen forces (electricity, wi-fi, digital signals) by using various gateways (you need power cords or stored power, a computer and the knowledge to make the computer do what you want it to), use a ritual (plug in, turn on, software load), add an access spell (password typing, often while using phrases such as "come one, come on, come on!") to gain access to the unseen world (the internet) and our effectiveness in doing whatever it is we're wanting to do (online) being limited to how powerful in magic we are or how much power we've paid for (computer/internet knowledge, levels of access, pay our bills), our magical training (knowledge of navigation and software use), if the magic is stable and accessible that day or season (server connection and function) etc... There are even - if you look closely - a whole set of superstitions about the use and handling of computers, internet navigation and sites. And a virus could easily be seen as a curse in the most basic sense.

Living root bridges in India - grown not constructed - feel like the work of modern-day elves.
Check the link for many more amazing images.
The parallels go on and could involve much greater depth without losing the idea of us being actual magic users (I wish I'd kept the conversation to transcribe for you!). I mean, seriously: do you REALLY know how the internet works? As in, could you, if dropped into the middle of nowhere, figure out how to make/invent the internet, digital signatures and software required? Of course not. Even today with all our knowledge software designers and hardware designers are really still lower level tech wizards. They have much greater knowledge than we do but they'd be stuck in the same situation if they were thrust back into the dark ages and had to make an internet that worked. There are higher up "wizards" who know more than they do but I'll bet you there are less than a handful of people alive who would have any clue, let alone success, of starting and building this technology now. Knowing how to do such a task would constitute some seriously awesome brain power.

From a fashion shoot with a fairy tale feel for Harpers Bazaar Hong Kong
Could it be we really ARE using magic now but we're all comfortable with it because it's called by technical names? (Anyone who ever had to deal with DOS should be able to understand how drawing ritual symbols for spells could be paralleled with typing computer code to make even the most basic functions work. Is it really true that someone, somewhere, knows what it all - from beginning to current technical advances - truly means? Could it be that magic used in times past figured out how to access the same forces but without the mechanical crutches we use today?

As someone with a background in both theater and animation, the process of which literally feels magical when you put the elements or drawings together (after a lot of slog and effort of course!), I can't help but consider such ideas.

Once I started looking around (on the internet of course!) I found many, many instances of people virtually saying the same thing. Check out these links HERE, HERE, a more in-depth look at the ideas HERE (though I would have to add that I think there have always been magical practitioners who are interested in "taking the black box apart" and it's not just scientists who do that) and a more sci-fi vs fantasy take HERE.

We live in a magical time of everyday miracles - all of which we usually take for granted. We shouldn't. Especially now where we've reached the wireless age and it wouldn't take much for our entire way of life to be wiped out.
Heart of the Forest by Tuomis Korpi
If you haven't already, go read Clarke's third law HERE, along with the examples given, and you'll see why the consideration of magic is so important. I would also argue that it makes fairy tales, with their often uniquely-everyday magic, more important than ever too.*

After all, it's the wonder-factor that makes for a fairy tale in the first place and it's things of wonder-past that make up our lives today. The magic in fairy tales is often small, working like a ripple in a pond. It rarely seems out of place or stops the hero in his tracks. Instead it requires those whose presence it manifests in to both acknowledge it and to do something with the experience or result. I have to wonder: if we saw true magic or witnessed a true miracle today, would we even recognize it? Or would we just pass it off as technology we don't understand?

Something to think about... and to help you feel more of the true wonder of our everyday world and that perhaps a fairy tale of your own may not be so far away...

*And I'm not just talking about the idea that Jack may have been given some freakish genetically-altered beans that changed his life, although playing around with these ideas and fairy tales is a lot of fun. ;)


  1. I really like this post and I have often thought about how some of the technology we use is kind of like magic. The unseen particles in the air where we get electricity and wi-fi are especially interesting, since it is so much like magic. Even just seeing a spark... I wish more people thought of the world we live in as a magical place.

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