There’s a really famous quote attributed to Arthur C. Clarke that I love:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
Sometimes, I am just floored by the elegance and truthfulness of this quote, when, using some piece of technology, I stop and wonder “how the heck is this working?” And I think that, at least on some conceptual level, I often know how the technology is working … and this makes it all the more amazing that I still don’t believe that it’s doing what I can clearly see it is doing. Sometimes I resort to just thinking that we are indeed all stuck in the Matrix and that it’s all just some kind of simulation (at which point, I think, that there must be some computer somewhere that is actually running the simulation, at which point I just curl up in my cubicle underneath my desk and start whimpering, which my boss hates!)
Using Google Maps on my cell phone the other day to get some directions, I had one of these moments (the awe kind, not the whimpering kind). But it wasn’t merely that I was able to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B via public transport — I’ve been using Google Maps now for quite a while and I’m kind of used to it (but I never take it for granted!) — it was how I was able to get these instructions … very, very easily. I had this fleeting, preternatural sense of connection to my device, like it was anticipating what I intended to do and all but did it for me. What I started typing it finished on my behalf; just as I recognized the need to provide the application with additional information, it presented me with an interface to do this. For such a mundane interaction, it was an oddly spiritual experience.
And with this, as someone who is interested in the design of user interfaces and user-centered technology, I’d like to provide a front-end-centric corollary to Mr. Clarke’s excellent quote:
“Any thoughtfully designed technology is indistinguishable from magic”
There’s a subtle — but important — difference to the kind of magic referred to in these two quotes.
The magic arising from sufficiently advanced technology might be the kind practiced by an illusionist: you observe something happening — right there in front of your eyes — yet you don’t believe that what you’re seeing is true, and can’t comprehend how the illusion is effected . The magic arising from thoughtfully designed technology, however … it’s a bit more subtle. It trades in the exhibitionism of an illusionist for the serene omniscience of an oracle. He’s been waiting for you, and he knows why you’re here. He knows your past and he can predict your future.
Take the #24 up Crowchild, get off at 32nd Ave. And quickly, this next bus will be early.
No related posts.