Magic Technology

The line between magic and technology seems to have more to do with TIME and less to do with reality. For many of us, technology that we use, but do not understand, has a magical quality and virtually every dramatic innovation or over-the-top invention has had a sense of magic about it.

I was thinking about how technology changes the way stories are told when I stumbled upon a Magic Lantern (Laterna Magica) at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It’s a 17th century image projection system. Until that chance encounter at the museum, I’d never seen nor heard of a Magic Lantern and I was immediately entranced.

The lantern uses images painted on glass, projected through a concave mirror and a lens using a light source (originally candles or oil lamps) to project pictures onto a screen. Moving images could be created by using two slides (one moving and the other still) and a hypnotic sense of movement could be created by hand cranking rotations of a series of abstract patterned slides in bright colors. It must have looked like the patterns created by a kaleidoscope, only bigger.

Magic lanterns were used by magicians and by storytellers for entertainment and “education.” Early uses included dramatic pictures of demons—horror movies/dire warnings about straying from the path of righteousness—complete with special effects!

In the 21st century, we can carry entire libraries of stories in a digital package the size of a 20th century paperback book. We tell entire stories in short blog posts and conjure spirits in 140 character messages.

Magic? Yes—as much as the Laterna Magica was to an audience in 1660-something.IMG_6519IMG_6521


  1. This reminds me of those lighting extravaganzas where whole buildings are lit up with colour or scenes or whatever. I assume something is projected onto them [like a slide onto a wall] but I have no idea how it’s done and yes, it may as well be magic.

    In fact, perhaps the difference between magic and technology is simply how we present it. Say Abracadabra, and you have magic; spout a formula like E=MC2 and you have science/technology. In that sense, there is a very, VERY fine line between fantasy and sci-fi.

    The way I think of it, in fantasy some more powerful being or force uses humans to accomplish it’s ends via magic. In sci-fi, humans use the magic to accomplish their own ends, whatever they may be.

    • Candy Korman

      hahahaha… I can complicate that magic/technology conundrum further by adding ART.
      Two weeks after I saw the Magic Lantern in Amsterdam, I saw a new instillation at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC that used rotating projections and colored lights. It was relatively LOW TECH but high art!

    • Candy Korman

      Love your definition of magic versus technology. As a non-techie… it’s all MAGIC! I overheard a father describing digital technology to his daughter (no more than 12 years old and more like 10) and I wanted to scream. He talked about “packets” of 1 and 0 and didn’t address the magical nature of transmitting anything from one place to another. I wish he’d described radio waves, too.

  2. I vaguely remember seeing this Magic Lantern on last year’s vacation and thinking how times have changed in what most people require to be entertained. I felt the same way too when sitting in the Marienplatz watching the mechanical jousting show of the Glockenspiel. In so many ways, bigger and better tech tends to make us a bit jaded. Heck, I remember holding a mirror in front of my and looking down as I walked around my childhood home so I could pretend I was walking on the ceiling. Now that was magic!

    • Candy Korman

      Yes, we have changed what is required to feel “entertained” and yet BOOKS manage (ebooks or conventional) to invite the reader to be entertained. I honestly think reading is interactive—even more so than a game because reading asks the reader to fill in the blanks and project themselves into the story!

      I love your walking on the ceiling memory! It’s like my own fantasies of what/who would emerge from the tiny closet in the room that would become mine as soon as I was brave enough to give up sharing a room with my sister. Pretending extends into storytelling and the stories we tell ourselves are our first fiction!