Jun 25

Jimmy Guterman

Jimmy Guterman

Are We Magicians?

Back at the D Conference in 2005, I remember taking notice at how many times Bill Gates used the words "magic" and "magical" to describe what Microsoft's products do. Similarly, as the run-up to the release of the iPhone finally ends this week (perhaps you've heard it's coming out?), Apple's Steve Jobs has been referring to its capabilities, particularly those of its display, as "magical."

What's going on here? My semi-educated guess is that as computing becomes more integrated into our daily lives, the tasks we associate with computers and handheld devices feel more mundane. For example, we all check our email more than we used to, but none of us are more excited about it. Email is not magic (neither are IM or Twitter, wise guys). As the goal of computing becoming entrenched in the mainstream has become true, at least in the developed economies, do the Gateses and Jobses of the world have to pretend that their latest wares are, indeed, magical to get them into buyers' hands? Magic: when the promise of productivity isn't enough to sell your stuff.

(On the other hand, alpha geeks, this is magic.)

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Comments: 8

  Terry Jones [06.25.07 08:30 AM]

> Magic: when the promise of productivity isn't enough to sell your stuff.

Or your conferences :-)

  Seb Chan [06.25.07 09:04 AM]

Actually magic and technology have been linked for centuries. There often is a very thin film of rationality we spread over our lives.

Erik Davis has a great book on it called "Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information" which is well worth the read.

What is electricity if not magic (for those who do not understand the science of course)? (which is kind of the premise behind films like The Prestige - stage magicians + tesla)

  Claus [06.25.07 09:09 AM]

Isn't it just a case of geeks dropping oblique Arthur C. Clarke references ?

  Tom B [06.25.07 10:36 AM]

The Universe itself has a bit of magic. Who would have thunk that the Cat lives or dies based on whether you open the box and look at it?

  monopole [06.25.07 10:48 AM]

In the case of Microsoft they assume that anything involving a pact w/ Satan is magic.

In the case of Apple it's simply the RDF hitting a singularity. The iPhone simply must be more than insanely great.

Frankly, it's an annoying trend, since many bits of technology do verge on magic until they shift back to mundane. The very concept of taking a high resolution color photograph and sending to a friend on the other side of the country in less than an hour was deep magic at first. Unfortunately neither Microsoft nor Apple has developed anything on this order for a long time.

  Michael R. Bernstein [06.25.07 06:37 PM]

One of my favorite songs also makes this connection: Steve Savitzky's 'World Inside the Crystal'.

  fingers [06.25.07 06:46 PM]

In a similar vein as Seb Chan, isn't this they way many new products are explained? How often have you heard the phrase "Works like magic!" in connection to some new air freshener or solvent? They even use the same phrase in Japanese commercials "Maho mitai!". I find it hard to believe that this is special to IT but rather to more general to a very broad deifination of technology when it is sold the the general public ("who cares how, it just works!(like magic)").

  Sean [07.25.07 01:11 PM]

Are we magicians? From a user's perspective, I think we are. Users might not understand what we do, and to them, it's "magic".

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