Friday, 10 January 2014

Technology and Magic

Arthur C. Clarke's had three laws, and the third of them, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", is a purler (1973, p. 36).

I like its intent. While I can understand some of the aspects ot technology - ie, you plug it in, follow the instructions and it should do what it says on the tin - once we get beyond that, into that great, esoteric vastness of quantum mechanics, I am lost. All is hazy beyond my tech event horizon.

So tech is at 'that' point for me; where it is rapidly descending into magic. It either works (technology) or is an incomprehensible piece of plastic (evil, sadistic, black magic)!

However, I love tech. I find it so cool that I can have 1/4 of my library - 700 books - on my Kindle. My iPod nano is tiny yet contains 300 albums and 25 talking books. My laptop weighs a mere 1200g. I have a three terabyte harddrive that contains loads of my favourite movies and TV series, synched with a sound system and a projector to watch films, just like I was at the movies (but with loo stops and better coffee and wine).

You might get the feeling that I like to read. Oh yeah.

If I am ever without a book, I will read the toilet paper wrapping or cereal packets. Intently. I need words in a row. In times of desperation, I have even been known to read real estate listings and women's magazines (you know, the ghastly ones that speculate about airbrushed 'celebrities', and have diets and clothes for brooms alongside rich, indulgent recipes).

When I travel, gone are the days when I need to take a quarter of my luggage allowance in books. Now I can 'go lite' with everything on little devices.

My entertainment supplies are on the web. I have bought books, music and films online since the 1990s. While originally I purchased hard copies, now I download. Why limit yourself to a 'thing' when you can have searchable, pausable, drag and dropable electrons in a row?

All this is WONDERFUL. Except when tech fails. Then, we get back into magic territory, where my technomancer fixes it for me (Martindale, 1990).

So what has this tech done to our society? Bricks and mortar bookshops will vanish, except as another entertainment venue - think cafe reading - or as a niche interest group. Books will only come in eFormats - truly searchable - and you won't get hard copies anymore unless you print your own. The same for music, I think - also unless you 3D print records (as is starting to happen) or you burn a CD. All knowledge will be accessible on the web - for a price. I think may start entering the realm of micropayments for things we want access to online, with free content as teasers (The Economist, 17 December 2013).

I love the idea of Google Glass. I know wearers are currently coined 'glassholes' (Whittaker, 3 January 2014), but reading what Zach Whittaker has to say, Google Glass makes current technology seamless. You can film, see, direct and access your life in a way that opens up many more opportunities and richness than we have seen in the past. Zach wrote that Google has algorithms which search and link all your content and, despite not programming a diary entry for a flight, "like magic it [Glass] appears with terminal information and live departure status. I walked around the terminal and, behold, [Glass directed me to] a place to grab a coffee and somewhere to buy a slice of cake". He continued "a week with Glass makes a smartphone feel somewhat archaic. The fact that this wearable technology sits within plain sight makes interfacing with it feel closer and more interactive. By that, the reality that your data is visual, it's always there, and it's available as and when you want it" (Whittaker, 30 December 2013)

Technologies will continue to converge at a dizzying rate, become more human and seamless and I will finally get my wished for combo device that I can tell to be the shape that I want for the use that I want... book shaped for reading that will turn off when I fall asleep and sticks to my fingers so I can't drop it, 3D surround for watching movies, and invisible and sound-proof for listening, talking, singing, dictating and creating.

Truly magic.



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