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A Clash of Giants

Which one is best, technology or magic? Technology is a product of science. Magic is produced by the manipulation of esoteric power. If it’s got batteries, it’s technology, if you put a finger in your ear while fondling a hamster, it’s magic.
Steve Dean on Technology and Magic
Clash of Giants: Technology versus Magic. Image: Deviant Art

Hello! Today I thought we could talk about which one is best, technology or magic? First, let’s define our parameters. Technology is a product of science. It’s explainable, repeatable, and often repairable. Magic is an effect produced by the manipulation of esoteric power, often granted by a supernatural being. If it’s got batteries in it it’s probably technology, if you have to put a finger in your ear while fondling a hamster, it’s probably magic. We’ll presume the technology has a suitable power source, and that whoever is wielding the magic is a fully-qualified mage.

Convenience

With technological devices getting smaller, it’s possible to carry a single device that does several things. Many years ago a mobile phone was just that. It didn’t do anything but make calls, and not for very long. Then, some clever people decided they wanted more, they wanted a camera, a music player, a screen, a water heater and a built-in particle collider. So we aren’t quite there yet, but phones are getting better so who knows what’s next.

When it comes to magic, a good mage can create almost any effect with a few words in a made-up language and a stick. They don’t need a battery or an internet connection, and they aren’t limited by the functionality of some plastic slab with stickers on it. You want hot water for tea? Bish bash bosh, and there it is. You want to collide some particles? (whatever they are) A flick of the wrist and some rhyming doggerel and you can collide as many particles/icicles/ventricles as you want.

I think we’ll have to give this point to Magic.

Ease of Use

With the introduction of touch screens, using technology has never been easier. You don’t need to know how it works or how to read, as long as you know which icon to touch to get the effect you want you’re fine. The simple stroking of a surface by anyone who has a finger and half a brain could easily initiate a phone call/a video game/world war III. No effort or understanding is required. It couldn’t be simpler.

Magic is the opposite. It takes years of study and practice, and even then one wrong move could have disastrous consequences. Making the wrong gesture while trying to summon a bacon sandwich could result in anything from a ham sandwich to opening the crack of doom and letting out all the evil. Even the most experienced magician can’t always control the results, especially if the required effect is hugely powerful. All those years of training, the gestures, the dried lizard gizzards, and then the spell fizzles out to nothing. How embarrassing.

Technology pulls back a point here, and the crowds go woot!

Health and Safety

Technology has a slight advantage here, as the advanced cultures that create it also have safeguards for such things. Still, it isn’t all perfect. When people don’t understand the technology they’re using, things can go wrong. Every time mankind has taken a step forward there have been those who suffered. For instance, telephones are great, people calling and trying to sell you something isn’t. The internet is wonderful, scams, and computer viruses aren’t. Despite this happening all the time, technology always arrives before the controls. (This just proves scientists are smarter than politicians.)

Magic is usually a product of a less-advanced society, where things like safety rails and dust masks are seen as unnecessary. With the added unpredictability of using magic in the first place, things aren’t looking good. Any protection the wizard has must be provided by themselves. In my experience, mages tend to look to their own protection and forget about others. “Incoming!” Whooosh! “Huge fireball, good thing I had this ring of protection! Hey, why is there charcoal everywhere? Hello?”

So, that point goes well and truly to technology.

Practicality

Once something is invented and working that’s pretty much it for the most part. As long as it has power and you didn’t drop it into a toilet, technology is functional, transportable, and overall very practical. The development of that thing might have taken years, involved cutting down a rain forest and polluting a river, but never mind, it’s done now. As with most technology, things improve over the years until we wonder how we managed without it. And over that time they get smaller, faster, and better, with less dead trees and fish floating belly up.

Anyone using magic is entirely reliant on their skill to make sure it works as it should. Someone might have written the scroll or spell you’re casting, but it’s still down to the mage to make sure it goes off as it’s meant to. Many types of magic also require components to cast, the old leg of a snake and eye of a worm thing. Carrying around a jar of badger lips, a bag of camel toes and a dragon’s metatarsal is anything but practical. Then there’s the big stick you need, and those robes get smelly after a while.

Technology takes this point with ease.

Coolness

Technology is only cool when it first comes out, or if it’s expensive, or both, and then only to certain people. If you drive down the street in a brand new Lambo, some people will be impressed, some will be jealous, and some will call you a plonker. (At least that’s true here in the UK.) So whether tech is cool or not depends on the audience. Of course, tech companies try to convince us that things are cool, which is why most phones are black and not chartreuse.

Magic is cool, there’s no denying it. As long as it’s successful of course. Gandalf is an old man with a walking stick and a pointy hat, but when he faces the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dûm that’s cool. Of course, the next part isn’t cool, but then when he fights the Balrog while falling into the depths of the Earth, that’s cool again. Being able to cast lightning bolts from your fingers, that’s cool.

This is a tricky one, tech is sometimes cool, magic is cool when it works. When tech fails it’s embarrassing, when magic fails it’s messy. I think magic edges the point here.

In Conclusion

I think we can safely conclude that technology is the winner here. Technology is reliable, flexible, useful, and really great. Magic can also be those things, but can go wrong in horrible ways, is tricky to learn, and involves handling the icky body parts of innocent creatures.

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