Being Harry Potter

I spent the afternoon today visiting an old friend at Valve Software. Since he is working on a Virtual Reality game, and I am doing research that involves Virtual Reality technology (much of which is made by Valve Software), we spent quite a bit of time talking about the nature of the experience of being in VR.

As Janet Murray has noted, new forms of media can be difficult to properly assess, because you need to disentangle novelty from inherent value. Lots of experiences can seem fun and exciting simply because you are trying them for the first time, but a medium cannot survive for very long on novelty alone.

For example, audiences may have been astonished back at the dawn of the twentieth century when Georges Méliès showed actors appearing and disappearing on screen in a puff of smoke. But we are now long past the point in cinema history where such a sight would grab the attention of a movie-going public.

I told my friend that to help me think about such issues, I sometimes try to imagine that I am a student at Hogwarts, learning magic alongside Harry Potter. To anyone reading J.K. Rowling’s books, or watching the films based on those books, the life of such a student must seem pretty extraordinary — conjuring up potions and magical creatures, playing Quidditch, conversing with ghosts and assorted mythical beings.

But here’s the thing: If you actually are that student, none of it seems extraordinary. In fact, it is the definition of ordinary. This is just your regular life, and to get by you need to do your homework and pass your exams just like all the other Hogwarts students you know.

It’s the same for all of those magical worlds. If you are actually in Starfleet flying through the galaxy on a starship, your life might seem pretty ordinary to you. It’s only when we peer into such a world through the magic window of fantasy that we experience a sense of wonder.

One could imagine somebody from a society quite different from ours, looking in on us, as we go about our everyday lives, flying in our airplanes, communicating with our SmartPhones, having all the knowledge of the world at our fingertips. Such an onlooker might think “Wow, it must be so marvelous to have such powers. Those people surely exist in a continual state of delight!”

Alas, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t marvel at Harry Potter and also be Harry Potter at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Being Harry Potter”

  1. Oh I felt exactly the same ! And truly when you look at Harry Potter it does not seem so inclined to do his homework of this new magical world, while all he knew all his life was mere hufflepuff’s mundanity. Once I reflected on my own reluctance over some past course I was not really into at the time, to found myself very curious and eager about the subject later on in life, like I miss out on some magical world easily at reach at the time. So yeah, it’s a perspective that shift back and forth I presume depending on some openness of our brain for the unknown.

    I’m wondering : what can bring us to remain in awe with known technologies ?

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