Do consumers view technology as magic?

February 7, 2011

More than a hundred years ago, sociologist Max Weber wrote that secularization—or the “disenchantment of the world”—lay at the heart of modern society. He argued that due to the industrial revolution and advances in science, the modern world had become less mysterious and more predictable to individuals, and society as a whole had become more rational and bureaucratic.

Last week, in a talk here at Columbia, Russ Belk, professor at York University in Toronto and a leading consumer culture researcher, argued that consumers view new technologies—computers, the internet, and nowadays social media—at first, before they get used to the technology, as magic.   His argument is quite intriguing. As evidence, just watch the resurrected video of Steve Jobs introducing the Macintosh—appropriately dubbed “the magic moment” by TextLab, the discoverers and restorers of that film.

Belk points to the possibility that our modern world never fully rationalized, that there was always an emotional and magical undercurrent, and that the “theme of magic” now, paradoxically, manifests itself in consumers’ admiration of the very device that was supposed to erase it—technology.


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