[This is Part 4 of a series of posts. Here are links to Part 1: Repair, Part 2: Decentralize, and Part 3: Design.]
Despite marketing jargon, I don’t think that we’ve yet reached the point where our technology is “magical.” A cave person might feel differently, but smartphones, computers, and televisions are clearly tools in my eye. There are a few exceptions, but I want devices that more elegantly flow with our lives instead of us molding our behavior around the device.
In stories, magic feels more like an extension of the being wielding the power. Even when the power source isn’t from within the individual, magic is still channeled through the magic user, so they must be in tune with it, but not consumed by it.
Technology that “just works” is a step in the right direction, since few things are as un-magical as having to reinstall drivers. I think we can go farther though. For me, at least, it’s easy to get lost in the technology itself and lose sight of the end goal of the tech. To be truly magical, I think the device and interface need to melt away so we can focus on the real reason we’re using it. At their core, smartphones are devices for communication. How do we make meaningful communication with those we care about easier?
Take the pencil. As long as it’s sharp, most people don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how much it weighs or how thin it is. It gets the job done and you don’t have to think much about the object itself. There are certainly applications like art where the hardness of the graphite is an important consideration, but for the majority of situations, the pencil is incidental to the outcome of wanting words or doodles on the page. The pencil is an extraordinary piece of technology because it works so well that we pay it barely any heed.
A few devices approach this simplicity: e-readers, Pebble smartwatches, smartpens, the Beeline bike navigator, the Typified weather poster, voice assistants, and most calculators. Maybe I just don’t have the headspace for multi-function gadgets, but for me, the more functionality you cram into a device, the more unwieldy it becomes. Perhaps some brilliant UI/UX designer will come up with a way to make the multi-function nature of the smartphone more seamless, but as of now, I find smartphones to be amazing but kludgy.
The people working on the Skychaser solarpunk comic are doing a great job of thinking of magical technologies. You should definitely check them out if this is something that appeals to you.
I don’t have the answers for finding the right balance of functionality and magic but wanted to explore some of the questions with you. Maybe you have some ideas of how to make technology a little more magical. If you do and want to share, please post something below!
I had never thought much about this aspect of devices before. I suspect when you make a device centered around helping it’s owner rather than trying to manipulate them, like current phones do, that feeling of magical flow would be much easier to achieve.
Also, I’m adding the webcomic to my feed. Thanks for bringing it to more people’s attention.
Brandon Sanderson has discussed how there are writers who use very flowery language which is an end to itself, and writers who only use as many words as they need to bring you into the world they’re portraying. I think our technology has somewhat devolved into an end unto itself instead of being a tool for us to use in the world. Listening to Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast has been really eye-opening in this regard. You might want to check it out if you have time.
I had forgotten about Skychaser until I remembered having seen some of their illustrations when working on this. Glad to bring them a little more publicity!
There’s another second-world solarpunk/art nouveau fantasy webcomic I found at one point… This is it; I only read the first little bit back in 2015/2016: http://www.thesubstitutescomic.com/comic/prologue-page-1 . It seemed like it was going to get interesting, but then I totally forgot about it.
Oh i am also a fan of the team human podcast. It’s very solarpunk in its mission statement.
Thanks for the other webcomic reccomndation. I look forward to reading it.
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