October 24, 2013
Today at Tech Cocktail Celebrate, Dr. Genevieve Bell focused her talk on how we as humans can put magic back into the technological work we do. Granted she was not talking about sorcery, but rather magic as it pertains to the delivery of delight and surprise, just like the first time you used a touch screen.
In 1580 the first pocket watch was invented and it put the massive scale of the church and town clocks into a human’s hand. According to Bell, time had been a fluid entity before that, but the pocket watch turned it into a fixed point, thus eliminating the magic in it.
Galileo invented the telescope and showed humanity that space could be stabilized, much like time. The telescope was also used to deconstruct objects in the world like plant matter and fleas, showing us that there were rules to the world, further eliminating magic around the mystery of our position in the universe.
This continued up through Descartes, who attributed cognitive thought with what makes us human; “I think, therefore I am.” But this explained what made us human, and eliminated the magic behind it; Bell declares magic totally dead at this point.
The uncanny, or the unknown, is a space in technology in our day where Bell believes magic still exists. To her, part of what humanity seeks is pleasure, and by camping out in the uncanny, versus rushing through it, we can tap into that magic and re-engineer it into our technology.
In essence, the fear of not knowing what comes next can guide humans to powerful re-integrations of pleasure into our world. And Bell’s joint experience in anthropology and research at Intel Labs offers a magical mentality to this solution in and of itself.
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