Author: Rose Booker

Social Media: @Poet_Rose (Twitter) Achievements unlocked: BA in English from UC Berkeley MFA in Creative Writing from SFSU Masters in Library and Information Science

Magic in the Digital Age

It may seem odd that a dragoness should be discussing magic in the contemporary era, especially when that same dragoness is addressing a population of mostly human readers (with the occasional sentient Spoon). However, in a world where many people experience existential dread, onui, and extreme apathy to existence as a whole, I feel it is my duty, as the magical being in charge of this website, to set some things straight:

Magic is real and it still exists.

One of the earliest definitions originates from the 1300s and states that magic is “the use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events or to manipulate the natural world, usually involving the use of an occult or secret body of knowledge” (Oxford English Dictionary, OED; emphasis added). Here, the term “usually” is used to connect magic with the occult, as it is commonly understood. Yet, “the term”usually” also hints that this is not has not always been the case. The implication is that magic does not always involved the use of the occult or esoteric secret bodies of knowledge — it can involve the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane. With the advent of the scientific method, advances in technology, and the ever expanding digital age — magic’s definition has not changed. Magic, today, is still the same as it ever was and will be. The only thing that has changed is our access to it and to any knowledge related to magic. If I may, I will go even further to say that science is human magic just as fire breathing is dragon magic.

How is science magic? To understand how the two are related let’s examine one of the most important rituals that humanity has ever created: the scientific method. Within the scientific method you start with an observation of a natural phenomenon. A natural phenomenon is something that happens without any human (or dragon) intervention — for example, a butterfly bursting out of a chrysalis is a natural phonomenon. Then, after making some observations on a natural phenonmenon, you craft a question regarding it. For example, why does a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis? How does a capterpillar turn into a butterfly? Whatever question you choose will become the basis of your hypothesis — your educated guess. Much like a thesis in an essay, a hypothesis is an answer to a question. The biggest difference between a thesis and a hypothesis is that one can be tested and proven right or wrong whereas the former is a statement that is up for debate. In short, you test a hypothesis while you debate a thesis.

But how do you test a hypothesis? Through experimentation and/or further observation. Back to our butterfly! Or lets go back even further to the 1700s. During the 1700s, the common logic was that insects (such as butterflies) arose from the grown fully formed — the connection between caterpillar and butterfly hadn’t been established yet. Into this world, we find our first bug witch er I mean entomologist, Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian was concerned with proving that butterflies laid eggs that would in turn hatch into caterpillars and metaphosis into butterflies. She was the first to prove that caterpillars turned into butterflies and this cemented her place in scientific history. How did she prove it? She took detailed notes and illustrations of her observations. Furthermore, what she observed can be replicated anywhere under similar circumstances — caterpillars in Guam will still become butterflies just as caterpillars in New England, so long as the conditions were similiar. This particular part is very important — any experimentation and observation must be replicatable to order to fit into the scientific method.

Once you’ve crafted your hyptothesis, ran your test, proved your hypothesis (or disproved it), you then write up your finding and show your work so to speak. All of this, I imagine, sounds very much like tedious work that is in no way magical or fantastic. In many ways, science is tedious work. But so is magic. Every part of the scientific method is ritualitic and focused on the purpose of understanding the world in which we inhabit. Understanding how something works is the first step towards manipulated and controlling that same thing. It is not necessarily the purpose of science — science seeks understand, understanding is the ends — but it is the purpose of technology.

Techonology is a byproduct of science and knowledge. Specifically, technology is “the application of such knowledge for practical purposes” or the “the sphere of activity concerned with this; the mechanical arts and applied sciences collectively” (OED). With regards to magic, then, this is where the fancy stuff comes out — the conjurations, the levetations, the fire breathing etc. Applied science is both magic and technology. Sure, it might not be as nice to summon food via Doordash but it sure is easier than gathering up a bunch of random odds and ends to summon a demon to cook for you. At least you don’t have to bargain for your soul with a Doordash driver. The tips are better too. But I digress. . .

Now, you may be thinking that “silly dragon, there is not magic in understanding how caterpillars turn into butterflies… nothing came of it… except for bug facts.” To that, I say: imagination, imagination, imagination. Imagination allows humans (and other beings) to connect the dots between disparant ideas. For example, insect control and insect life cycles. If you want to control insect populations, you need to know about insect life cycles. What chemicals are necessary for Butterflies to lay eggs? How do we remove that chemical from their bodies? How can we interrupt the life cycle without harming plants? Already, you are imagining pesticides.

What if you want more bugs? What if you want silk from a specific butterfly species? How do I harvest that material without killing the creature? Etc. Answering these questions will then lead to more questions and more technology and more questions and more technology. In fact, our understanding of butterflies has progress far beyond Maria Sibylla Merian’s witchcraft — we now have antibactrical fabric moven to mimic the texture of butterfly and dragonfly wings.

Surely, though, in the digital/internet age, the definition of magic has changed?

Nope. It hasn’t. If anything, the advances in the science, technological, and digital/internet fields is itself a feat of magic on a grand worldwide scale. As I mentioned, with the advent of the internet, you can summon items to your home at speeds never before seen on Earth. Currently, you are reading light. Quite literally, you are decyphering glyphs projected to you via light from a device that may be as small as the palm of your hand or as large as two tables. You might be projecting this onto a wall, and sharing it with friends (in which case, hello human nerds, you are spending a lot of time and energy reading these words on a wall…good for you…have a video). If that isn’t magical, I don’t know what is.

Science and technology have not changed our definition of magic — it has simply changed how we access magic. Due to the sheer access that everyone has to modern magic, it may seem that it is no longer special — how can anything be special if everything is special? That, my dear reader, is a matter of perspective. Personally, I find your lives to be too short, too fragile. At most you may live to be 100 years old (and that’s if you take good care of yourself and live in areas called Blue Zones). Because of how short your existence is, your magic is that more special. Watching humanity has been my greatest joy because each of you possess the grandure of a nebula even in your most mundane moments.

So, if you take anything away from my ramblings today, let it be this: you’re very existence is magical, even if you do not feel that it is.

800 Miles

I, busy shelving picture books 
All while dreaming of TV cooks,
was unaware that viral counts
jumped over predicted mounts.
The number of infected hosts
Bloomed like algae along our coast.
Notified of the coming harm,
I let fall books from my arm.

My thoughts raced to the San Francisco Bay
To my family, 800 miles away.

A library page no longer
Just a child, filled with hunger,
For the family I left behind
For the pay, the hustle, the grind.
Locked inside an unlocked prison
Quarantined in isolation
Disinfecting, I made so clean
My body of Covid-19.

In my sterile home, I must stay
From my family, 800 miles away.

Threats of furlough, not so subtle,
Increased our collective struggle
Underneath an orange regime
which history will not redeem.
Yet, I found myself quite lucky
To be employed while I study
Librarianship by the sea.
A rare gift afforded to me

From my family, 800 miles away
Where my roots will never decay.

Eventually, those with power
Deemed me an essential flower
Whose fruitful labor must be reaped
So the wealthy can safely sleep.
I, then, with my fellows, returned
To our buildings, where we learned
How to better serve our patrons
Not as before but as strict matrons.

To my family, 800 miles away
I send my hopes for a better day.