What You See Is What You Get?

April 26, 2012 by  Filed under: Marketing 

Arthur C. Clarke postulated a “law” that goes something like “Any sufficiently advanced technology (or science) is indistinguishable from magic“.

It’s a fair statement.

The fact is that, for most of us, turning on a computer or a light switch is a form of magic. We might know that it is the use of electricity, but it is still a magical thing to turn on the light, use a stove or microwave oven, access the internet through a computer and have, at our fingertips, more information than whole previous generations could ever have known about or even could be aware of.

It was much later, when digging into magic and magical rituals, that I found a corresponding “law” that dates back to Merlin (or even earlier). This one can be paraphrased as: “Any sufficiently advanced for of magic and ritual is indistinguishable in its effects from a full technology or science”.

The “trick” is to realize that most magic is not just uttering an incantation or magic word as per Harry Potter, but a set of ritual movements that go with the words, more like the witches from Macbeth, with their “Fillet of a fenny snake/In the cauldron boils and bake/eye of newt and toe of frog…”

Of course, we put the list and materials down as essentially nonsense, but the important thing to note is that what the witches are describing is a ritual, part of which are specific materials and part of which is in the timing – the ritual – in which the mixing must be done. Although Shakespeare’s “stuff” going into the cauldron is probably nonsense, it’s exactly what we would do in a laboratory to make a medicine or an ointment. Everything that goes in is there for a reason. More, most alchemists (and other magicians) were very sure of the results they would get from the ritual, whatever it was, whether a potion or elixir or other ‘black magic’.

Whether one accepts ‘magic’ or not, it should be very clear that, if the results are predictable more often than not, then how is this all that different from science and technology as we know it, where we know that, if a current passes through a wire, heat appears?

And, like our scientists and technologists, the magicians knew one thing for sure, what I call the Jobs/Gates Law: “any sufficiently advanced magic, science or technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demonstration”.

It’s true – the purpose of a demonstration is to show us something that works. The demonstration “proves” the science or magic behind it, whether it is real or not. Have you ever found that software does exactly what you think it will as well as it does in a demonstration of that software? Or hardware?

I’m not saying that the demonstrations are false and intended to mislead. They are, mostly, true to the belief of the people putting on the demonstration. The thing is, we, the audience, can never be totally certain that the demonstration is NOT rigged to give the desired result.

Apple and Microsoft are large, reputable companies whose main job is to convince you that their products can do what they are supposed to do. That they often put out products that don’t quite work as you expect them to is not a matter of them trying to mislead you. It’s that their products come close to being as ‘perfect’ as their rigged demonstrations. But the demonstrations are still rigged, to show you these products doing what they can do under the best possible circumstances.

Well, would you buy an Ipad or an operating system that, when demonstrated, act the way they do when YOU try to use them? Of course you would not!

We get impressed with these demonstrations, and make allowances for things to not quite work as perfectly as they do on stage, or in the store. If we insisted on the same level of perfection, we’d soon stop buying the ‘latest and greatest’ version of the gadgets and software.

Of course, the rigged demonstration does not stop with hardware and software. Just think of all those ‘infomercials’, from the miraculous machines to get you fit, through to those that can style your hair. Or the ones that claim to make it possible for you to make a fortune, just through playing the stock market or the real estate market. Or the Internet, with its affiliate programs and so on. They’re all rigged demonstrations, and it’s the way they are rigged that gives them credibility.

So, maybe Arthur C. Clarke and ‘Merlin’ were not quite right. It’s the rigged demonstrations that matter, and perhaps even those ‘Laws’ are just the rigged demonstration law taken to its logical extreme…

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