In part 1, I took a look at Arthur C. Clarke’s first two laws. Here, I’m hitting on the oft quoted, used, abused, and has a number of derivatives and variations.
#3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
When I was in college lo those many centuries ago, this used to come up pretty frequently in some of the IT courses. I’ve always been intrigued by this thought, and over the years, I’ve seen many instances of this coming true.
In my writing, I use a mixture of modern tech and old world magic. Sometimes they play well together, and sometimes they don’t. The protagonist, Grey, has had most of his power stripped from him, and through the story arc, he will regain what he lost, and more. But through it, he is using and encountering a mixture of both modern and ancient technologies in a world that otherwise ignores magic.
Most of us will have read stories that include magic not playing well with modern electrical devices, and act if it’s the arcana of two different worlds. I do some of that as well. But I also see it as an allegory for something else.
If you could bring someone from even the 1960’s to today, and stream them an episode of the Original Star Trek series on a tablet, after they got over the shock, would be to ask where the flying cars and starship port were. At least I would.
I love to go back and read speculative fiction from pulp novels, and its always funny to see what they got right, and what they got wrong, or at least hasn’t happened yet. I wonder what they thought when they projected themselves into creating a future world, and the technologies around them. This brings me to two questions. What tech is coming that if we saw it today, would we think of as magic, but also, what old school tech have we lost that would be just as much like magic if we were to rediscover it today? And would anyone but a very few notice?
This brings me to my contemplations about this law, working in technology, and my writing into one world. Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, and I’m a part of that world, but it still surprises me even after almost thirty years working in it. Are we progressing so rapidly, that we have come to expect so much magic from our modern alchemists that its wiping out the sense of wonder and appreciation for the efforts that bring such wonderful toys to life?
I ask for one simple reason. If we don’t appreciate it, some day we will stop being imaginative. We will stop creating. And the modern alchemists will fade away, and the toys we have now will be just as much like magic because no one will remember the magic it takes to build them, or innovate on them. And if we don’t appreciate it, if it doesn’t make us dream and wonder, is it still magical?
But there is good news too. I look at what this technology manifests. Maker’s Faires feature mixes of bleeding edge technology available to anyone who wants it next to organic honey. Our future will continue to be in the hands of those who dream and build, and deliver the new wondrous generation of magic to us.
Go forth, participate and create!