The iPad as magic

Sales of Apple’s iPad have been impressive. Virginia Postrel argues that the appeal of the iPad is in its magic:

When Steve Jobs appeared on stage last week to unveil the iPad 2, which hit stores Friday, he said, “People laughed at us for using the word ‘magical,’ but, you know what, it’s turned out to be magical.”

Apple has long had an aura of trend-setting cool, but magic is a bolder—and more provocative— claim…

With its utterly opaque yet seemingly transparent design, the iPad affirms a little-recognized fact of the supposedly “disenchanted” modern world. We are surrounded by magic…

“Between a wish and its fulfillment there is, in magic, no gap,” wrote the anthropologist Marcel Mauss in “A General Theory of Magic.” Effortlessly, instantly, the magical alters reality with a tap of the finger or wave of the hand. Sound familiar?

This argument reminds me of Max Weber’s claims about the rationalization of the modern world. On a broader scale, Weber argued that bureaucracy, efficient for dealing with large groups of people, would lead to a “iron cage” where everything would be routinized. Postrel argues that even though the iPad is the product of modern bureaucracies (even Apple is a bureaucracy though it positions itself as the anti-bureaucracy, usually referring to Microsoft, with a charismatic leader), it is magic in that the user has little idea of how it all works, is unable to open it up and “look under the hood,” and it is like an extension of oneself.

This could be one explanation for the iPad as magic. There could be some other reasons as well: its size, the vibrant screen, the Apple brand, and its positioning as the most popular (and the first mass-market product?) of the burgeoning tablet market. Another explanation could be this: the iPad brings joy or happiness to its users in a way that many modern products do not. While laptops are often intended for work and new cars are functional transportation options, the iPad is there for enjoyment. In a disenchanted world, this is an re-enchanting product in the same way that the Microsoft Kinect (with its own impressive sales) is magical: it is meant to be used for fun.

Will the magic decline over time as more products offer the same possibilities? Probably. But for now, the iPad may have just cornered the short-lived market on magic and re-enchanting its user’s worlds.

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