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If Technology is Magic, Where is the Curiosity?

Many of us have heard the Arthur C. Clark quote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Those of us who work in the computer industry for a living seem to have an immediate agreement with the quote. Push these buttons or click these boxes in this order and this other thing will happen. People who don’t spend a career or hobby in tech are sometimes lost when going beyond such explicit instructions. Under those actions exists layers upon layers of complexity and abstractions and the user has no idea how any one of them function. So…. magic.

Now, with traditional magic, there’s often a strong element of curiosity. Show anyone a simple card trick that they have not seen before and they will immediately want to know how you did it. They will be up front about their request and possibly resort to nagging if you don’t reveal the secret. There will be a strong tension built up inside the person that demands an answer. Even though knowing the secret ruins the magic, I’ve never seen anyone being perfectly comfortable just enjoying the magic and not wondering how it was done.

If technology then is magic, where is the strong curiosity? Maybe this is just where the metaphor ends, but I’ve never seen a non-techy person with the same drive and curiosity after being shown some new software or tech gadget even. To be fair, a card trick likely has a much simpler and understandable explanation than a pile of code. Also, people in the same tech field will often have that curiosity drive if it’s something they understand at large but were impressed at a particular part that they couldn’t explain. They will dive into the code base and tear it apart trying to figure it out.

Perhaps technology is magic only when the person observing knows mostly what’s going on and thus knows enough to ask the question “how did you do that?” To someone outside the field, a slightly better metaphor may be that a piece of technology is sorcery. Something that has no explanation in the physical realm and thus invokes no hunger for understanding. Someone chanted a spell and the lightning appeared, that’s just how it is.

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