Jimmy Guterman's blog

media, technology, management, and the rest of it

I don’t believe in magic …

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Doug Henning… and not just because it’s the second-worst album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The word “magic” is particularly annoying when applied to consumer technology, starting with Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-quoted “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s pithy and pungent, but untrue. Air conditioner technology is quite advanced. We all know the difference between air conditioning and magic.

Bill Gates, during his post-CEO/pre-departure years at Microsoft, tried to push this word. I saw him use the term “magic” to describe what his company’s software did at many conferences, much as he does in this 2004 column for InformationWeek:

It’s the magic of software that will connect these devices into a seamless whole, making them an indispensable part of our everyday lives.

He’s describing Windows Update, a service about as magical as a doorbell.

Mighty HouseAnd now Apple is playing the “magic” game. Its new mouse replaces its previous wireless “Mighty Mouse,” which was characterized mostly by its inability to hold a Bluetooth connection for more than 90 seconds. It’s called a “Magic Mouse.” It’s amusing to see the trendsetters at Apple picking up on a half-decade-old discarded Microsoft slogan. So much for thinking different(ly). But it emphasizes how much trouble computer makers are having selling their wares nowadays. With computers becoming more and more commoditized, it’s hard to get anyone excited about them for reasons other than design, at which Apple excels. So the companies who sell us computers and products that connect to them have to start making things up about them, like they’re “magic.” This doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration anymore.

UPDATE: Now Google is playing this game, too.

Written by guterman

October 21, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Posted in devices, web 2.0

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