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MAGIC — a fiction
When I was younger, I would perform magic tricks for my family. I was bad at the big showstoppers — maybe because I didn’t believe in the thing myself, it stopped me making others believe. No, it was the sleight of hand tricks that interested me. I think it was something to do with the certainty of the action.
There’s no middle ground with a sleight of hand; you either get the coin down your sleeve or you miss and send it clattering to the floor; shows over folks, time to go home. There was no reliance on false bottoms or angled mirrors — it was all on you with no room for error.
I ended up clearing most of the things away from my room, pushing drawers into the lower half of the wardrobe and selling my guitar, just to make more space for my practice. Some tricks involved a throw or flick that needed that extra yard or so of head room and the space I had was tight enough already. I managed to get room enough to stand, fingers outstretched, unable to touch any wall or fitting. And there I would practice, and practice long after the rest of the lights in the house had been turned out.
My parents must have thought it a godsend. My brother had played the drums.
It wasn’t until my 15th birthday that I began to find the magic that would become my eventual career. IBM Thinkpad. Fairly early model, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t new, despite Mum’s best attempt at wrapping up the original box.
At first it was games that consumed my time on it, but I grew bored of them within a week. My parents had intended it to be used for school work, but the interest I found in it went far beyond my formal education.
At first, I tried Java. Then I moved on to C and C+. It was the mystic language I had been searching for in my magic books, and I breathed it in. But then I realised that the real magic wasn’t in the logic on the screen, but the effect it had on the human mind.
There is a wonderful illusion in the nature of choice. When you use a computer, you actually think you are the one in charge of what is happening, when the truth is very different. Your choice is what the designer uses to guide you.
You have no idea what I mean. OK, try this: You walk into the store. You see a selection of toothpastes there on the shelf and you pick one out and think you’ve made a good choice for your teeth. But all you’ve actually done is choose from a pre-selection made for you. What if the best choice for your teeth was a different brand of toothpaste? What if the best choice for your teeth wasn’t toothpaste at all, but a low-sugar diet, plenty of exercise and drinking water before and after every meal? Maybe you don’t need toothpaste at all.
And that’s what I do. I design the software, give you choices that I want to give you. You end up comparing photos of cocktails instead of looking for the best place to carry on your conversation. There’s a great coffee shop just across the street, so I change your choice. I mix up the shelf and you find something you didn’t expect. Everyone’s happy. It’s a sleight of hand you never expected and without someone like me, you’d just end up living in a computer generated echo chamber.
Magic isn’t out there in the real world; it’s beneath your fingers, hidden within the circuitry.
Originally published on Tumblr
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