Warning, there’s a fairly high nerd quotient to this one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m old enough to remember great huge Atari and Commodore desktops with the new fangled tape drives that opened up untold riches of 500K of permanent storage. I remember the massive COM ports and the even weirder token ring boxy connections. I remember when we moved to ethernet in the nineties and we entered the ‘networked’ age. I shudder at the memory of practising the arcane art of cross-wiring an ethernet cable to let two PCs talk at speeds previously unheardof. And it’s because I remember these “early” days of the connected computer that I can marvel today at the magic we encounter everyday.
Let’s take something that is nothing but a second thought today, listing to Barefoot Beach Chill on songza.com. Like any good mage, I pull my magic wand from cloak. A battle of wills ensues as the wand ensures I am worthy of using it, and I prevail. I wiggle my fingers and thumbs in an arcane pattern over the unearthly glow emanating from my wand. As I review my repertoire of cantrips, I choose a powerful evocation spell to bring forth music known as Songza. In my minds eye, I see the different enunciations that allow me to bring forth variations of the spell such as “Catching rays on a wednesday afternoon” or “West coast summer hit outside in the sun”. I complete the spell and beautiful calming tunes fill the air, seemingly from nowhere. I cast another spell named bluetooth and suddenly the music is richer and deeper as it immediately begins to emanate from the objects around me. And I can rest in the calming atmosphere with barely any effort expended.
Of course, this is silly. In reality I pulled out my iPhone, opened the songza app, chose the channel that appealed, enabled the connection to our bluetooth stereo and sat back to enjoy a quiet lunch break. Nothing magical about that, right? Wrong. Think about having a massive computer in your pocket. Think about that device knowing automatically whether to connect to the 3G connection or the wifi, or switch from one to the other in mid-stream. Think about the infrastucture required to get the songza app to me from parts unknown, for me to instantly pull a listing of options from Songza’s servers. And not just any servers, but likely the ones closest to me no matter where I am in the world, so that my experience is the best it can be. Think about the act of billion of bits of information flowing from server to iPhone in real time with at least one hop over over modulated radio frequencies, having those billion of bits transferred, modulated, demodulated, interpolated for compression and codec and then translated into sound. Then think about all that information being re-encoded, modulated, unmodulated and de-coded over the bluetooth channel so that the iphone can broadcast to the living room stereo. Think about something the size of a pack of gum having the ability to broadcast. That’s not to mention Songza’s work behind the scenes to get, classify, organize, rate and provision songs over millions of connections around the world every second. It truly is magic.
When I think about all the pieces of technology that need to be coordinated to make my lunch time music possible, it almost boggles the mind. When I think about how impossible all of that would have been even 20 years ago, my mind reels at what my children will experience. But I think that it’s important to stop and express your joy and thanks at the million little acts of magic that surround us each and every day. I live in a privileged segment of a privileged society and I am duly grateful and, frankly, in awe of the amazing things I get to do and see everyday. Go and cast a spell today, and marvel at your magic.