Art of Technomancy
Ever since Homo sapiens picked up his first rock technology has become more and more pervasive. The rock, however, or even something as sophisticated as the iron club does not impose on our lives as much as the current generation of toys. I have never seen a pocket-scythe for convenient harvesting, but many people today cannot survive a single day without their tiny computers.
It is easy to see technology has become an integral part of life for just about everybody. With the appropriate device, an intrepid explorer or extreme hermit could still check their Facebook page on the most remote mountaintop in the Himalayas. Despite the apparent importance and inescapability of modern technology, there are very few of us who really understand how, or why, it works. I know I don’t.
One of the beautiful things about our current technology is that one does not require complete mastery over how and why it works in order to operate it adequately. From the very first machine, technology has been designed to be used, although not necessarily comprehended.
In a sense, the operator is “programmed” to use the machine. With exposure to whatever technology they are working with, the operator develops a “database” of responses to problems they have seen before. To work through all the known solutions until the problem is solved is called Troubleshooting. Basically, with time, observation, and memory, a person can operate any machine; even the dreaded electronics of the late twentieth century.
For example, I have grown up around TVs and things that plug into them. I am also quite familiar with Wi-Fi Internet routers. I know how to work these things, but only have a very rudimentary understanding of how they actually function. When asked to explain, I can get about as far as, “a device converts data into electromagnetic radiation which is sent to another device that converts it back into perceivable data.” This explanation is about the same as telling someone how a philosopher’s stone is something that can turn lead into gold and back again, and expecting their questions to be sufficiently answered. Still, I have never faced a problem with these devices that I couldn’t fix with my own database of solutions, or access to another.
Today when we have a problem with technology, our primary tool to fix it is more technology. Like our ancestors, we go to an all-knowing Oracle to give us solutions to our maladies. Only now we need not travel to distant Delphi to ask our questions. The new Oracle is the transcendent Google. Yet even with its omnipresence and vast resources, it seems that even Google is just guessing sometimes. If there is not a good website with a definitive answer, Google literally throws hundreds of thousands of links at us, to sift through for ourselves.
Then there is the option of calling technical support, but that is a tricky proposition. Searching for answers on Google is free; having a tech-person come to your house is not. There is nothing more frustrating than hiring someone to fix your technology, or even just calling technical support, only to discover the secret solution was to turn the thing off, and then turn it on again. That is usually the first thing I try anyway.
Even with troubleshooting, tech support, and all-knowing Google, sometimes electronics just don’t want to work. Our tools today are fickle things that require specific conditions for adequate operation. In that sense, technology has become similar to the people who created it. Our devices often seem to have minds of their own. Perhaps there is some truth in the idea of the Ghost in the Machine
According to science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I’m sure there is a good joke there, but my iPhone is broken, so I don’t have the app to tell me what it is.