Tuesday, February 02, 2010


The Apple website describes its latest gadget iPad as “our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device”.

In fact most reviews of the product used the word ‘magical’.

Why magical?

One explanation is that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, as Arthur C Clarke put it.

A more detailed explanation can be found in Umberto Eco’s article, “Science, Technology and Magic” in his book, “Turning back the clock”.

First Umberto Eco makes the distinction between science and technology. Technology gives you everything instantly. Science proceeds slowly.

“Today we are accustomed to travel from Europe to New York in three and a half hours aboard a Concorde, and jet lag and the use of melatonin are a consequence of our high-speed life. We are so accustomed to speed that we get angry if we can’t open our e-mail immediately or if our plane is delayed.

This addiction to technology has nothing to do with the practice of science,. It has to do, instead, with the eternal resort to magic.

What has magic been over the centuries, and what is it still today, albeit in disguise? The assumption that it is possible to go from cause to effect without taking any intermediate steps. I stick a pin in an effigy of the enemy and he dies. I utter a formula and transform iron into gold.

Magic is indifferent to the long chain of causes and effects and above all it does not trouble itself to establish by constant experiment that there is a replicable relation between a cause and its effect. Hence its appeal from primitive cultures to he Renaissance to the myriad occult sects to be found all over the Internet.

Faith and hope in magic did not by any means fade away with the advent of experimental science. The desire for simultaneity between cause and effect was transferred to technology, which looks like the natural daughter of science. It might seem strange that the magic mentality should persist in our day, but if we look around, it is triumphant and everywhere.

So, when Steve Jobs or whoever it was who made the product presentation repeatedly use the word “magical”, he was appealing to the ‘magic’ mentality that is still alive in each one of us. We desire simultaneity between cause and effect.

1 comment:

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