Everyone needs magic. Hours upon hours of our lives are spent staring at rectangular prisms—electronic or paper—just to try and capture the sensation of magic. We crave it. We chase it. It's the one thing all humans have in common.
It manifests in a few different ways. Some seek it out by looking for similar people. Others, through making or playing with interactive media in one form or another. You've probably even spent a decent amount of money at some point in your life on the most popular spin on the concept.
Religion's another way of chasing it—unsurprisingly enough, it's quite powerful. Most other ways of chasing fall downstream of it, which can be seen in a variety of most of the most influential and popular authors in the West, and outside of it, too. Granted, occasionally in other forms.
It's not hard to see why—life unaugmented is...not great. It only gets worse as we know more, even. Look into the eyes of your significant other. Run a hand through their hair. Think about how both you and they boil down to poorly smashed-together molecules at the end of the day. Your relationship, millions of impossibly tiny, unthinking little atoms, each of which individually incapable of love.
Depressing, isn't it? You can't make even that, the most sacred natural thing humans have, the slightest bit romantic or joy-inspiring without some form of magic involved in the calculation. Scientific advancement's a curse and unsustainable without it. With it, though, it can be the most powerful thing in the world, both politically and practically.
But religion is dying, and the never-ending march forward of science isn't entirely innocent (of course, arguably centuries of mismanagement by religious administration takes the largest amount of blame). While yes, in theory that's not a bad thing—getting rid of things we can't prove has served us well in the past (stigma against other races and sexualities comes to mind almost immediately), in practice, this seems to be proving incredibly dangerous.
So what are we going to replace it with?
I see two1 paths forward, neither of which are exclusive.
One way would be increasing media consumption by unprecedented extents—the beginning of this is already happening; it's almost impossible to be over two degrees of separation from a handful of people who spend disorienting amounts of time playing video games alone in their room.
That's ignoring social media, which in itself is effectively a MUD, and manages to siphon off a bit more of conventional MMORPGs' audiences every year—granted, often in pseudonymity rather than big business's desired eponymity (warning: Google Cache link).
The second way, and, in my opinion, the best way, will be the rise of a creation culture. This had already popped its head around a few times during the 2010s, with websites like Instructables, ArtStation and Glitch—each part of a different niche, but undeniably part of the same phenomenon. Creation of art and physical hobby projects doesn't exactly fill any evolutionary need; it's effectively a protest against utility—only something with a "soul" would do something so useless.
So we're left with tricking and distracting ourselves, and falling back to a sort of religion-of-self.
After the initial shock wears off, I can't see this as anything but a good thing in the long-term. Making magic more available can't be a bad thing.
In any case, we'll see soon enough.
There's another one, but it doesn't seem to be surviving, and I don't particularly want to encourage it. ↩
All links to news media on this post (barring one, which blocks the service almost as if to prove the point I was trying to make) have been replaced with their outline.com equivalents—outline.com is run by a non-profit, hosts no ads, has no distracting sign-up gimmicks, and allows you to get around paywalls. It also allows for group annotations, something I've seen people wanting for ages—if you haven't yet, I'd highly recommend checking it out.
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