The Spell of Technology

By John Dilworth · July 4, 2010

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The preceding quote by Arthur C. Clark (the author of 2001 Space Odyssey) is often used in a context which glorifies technology. In fact, the quote was recently used by Apple Computer to demonstrate their new product, the iPad. The idea that something is magical or appears to be magic appeals to our senses and fills us with wonder and amazement. Magic is something the defies reality, we think something is magical when it defies the laws of science and the limitations of our minds.

Technological Magic

Sometimes technology is like real magic — it provides us with real benefits that help our lives and the lives of others. And, sometimes technology is just an illusion – presented by a skilled magician— it can capture our attention, our amazement and wonder without providing any real solution or benefit.

We are spellbound participants in a grand magic show, watching the illusion and believing that it is reality. We might even be the magicians, impressing our peers with tricks and illusions, and putting on a great show, without ever making the real problems disappear. Those real problems need to be solved for real, and not just made to disappear as part of an elaborate illusion.

These magic shows make their way into every aspect of daily life. Companies make decisions every day to purchase multi-million dollar software solutions – not because they makes the problems go away, but because they hide the problems so perfectly that the illusion is flawless.

Breaking the Spell

If you find yourself caught in the spell, and hopelessly in love with the illusion, you might not enjoy the following quotes. They help remind us that advanced technology should not be about magic and illusion, but rather, it should be about the reality that can solve problems and make the world a better place.

Technology Quotes

  • It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. —T.S. Eliot

  • Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. —Aldous Huxley

  • The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers. —Sydney J. Harris

  • Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons. —R. Buckminster Fuller

  • It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. —Albert Einstein

  • There is an evil tendency underlying all our technology – the tendency to do what is reasonable even when it isn’t any good. — Robert Pirsig

  • Modern technology owes ecology an apology. —Alan M. Eddison

  • Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it. — Max Frisch

  • The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  • Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools. —Henry David Thoreau

  • The abnormality of our time that which makes it contrary to nature, is its deliberate and stated determination to make the working life of men & the product of their working hours mechanically perfect, and relegate all the humanities, all that is of its nature humane to their spare time, to the time when they are not at work. — Eric Gill