published! https://spencerchang.me/posts/everyday-magic

working draft: https://coda.io/d/Writing-Hub_dYsYg7d1EIu/reclaiming-the-magic_suqw1#_lul72


  • should reach out to malleable systems about it
  • should reach out to people at coda for input too

Goal: define software agency, set scene for how people view magic and paint picture for how people should view technology and software, with a sense of agency and purpose and as an outlet of expression.

The Magic of Technology

Ever since technology has come into our lives, it’s been introduced as the solution to all of our problems and as something that only an elite set of gifted individuals have the ability to shape. The tide is changing now, where there’s a rising belief that normal individuals should view technology as something more common, like a household object that can be changed and used to their belief.

There are ways in which this can feel amazing because you don’t have to worry about the complexity underlying and everything just works. This is the case with iOS 15’s new Find My Separation feature. However, in other cases, it can feel disturbing that the technology is able to do something that you can’t imagine how, so you start to extrapolate scenarios that are worse than reality, like thinking that facebook or google are recording your every voice from your mobile device when they serve you ads related to that one thing you’ve been thinking about all day.

  • non-technical people think there’s only one “right” way of using technology and that they’re stupid fi they do something wrong
  • non-technical people rely on technical people to do things because they feel like they can do it even if they tried
  • overwhelming how much info you need to know. it’s also scary and people make it out to be more complex than it is.
  • people haven’t experienced that tipping point of feeling agency

Seizing the Magic

There’s a critical moment when people experience agency for the first time and then they can never look back. You’d think this only happens to people who have some technical background: the first time their program runs, or their website loads, or their problem is solved a program their configured. But this feeling is wider spread than you’d think. Excel is the most popular programming language and when you see someone manipulate a spreadsheet for their own use case (and it can be crazy what you can change a spreadsheet to do), it’s the same sort of feeling

Developers are magicians

developers have always felt this. it’s why being a developer is so attractive to so many people. it’s learning how to be a magician. You get to peek under the hood and see that it’s not as bad or impossible as people make it out to be. Your heroes and ideals are tempered with reality

Democratizing Agency: the pipeline for creativity

make connection between agency and creativity. define agency, show how it’s used for creativity.

ways in which you can help establish agency

  • playful software
  • tinkering
  • interoperability
  • fast feedback loops

ways in which you do not establish agency or encourage the opposite

  • dark design patterns
  • addictive UX mechanisms
  • purely metrics driven feature implementation

Malleable Systems

we need malleable systems

Empowering creative agency

What’s the magic? It’s creative agency. We all want to feel like we own something, like we ahve the capability to create something meaningful. We want to see ourselves manifested in our impact on the world and the people around us.

We’re increasingly spending time in our digital worlds where we’re subjected to software that views us as fickle fawn to be lured into produced revenue. We’re craved for our attention rather than our whole being—our acts rather than our humanity. What if the world were different? What if the technology we interacted with every day encouraged us to play and love and express and create?

chart a path towards a world where we feel this creative agency with the things that are most foreign to us and that we are increasingly spending more time on

  • why is agency so important? why is it so important to feel like we have it with our software? because it’s the most black box thing in our lives that is having so much impact on how we live and how our species will evolve (self-driving cars, climate tech, etc.)


software as magic

piece from the response that is relevant

Relevant References

personal data ownership software agency interoperability tinkerability tools for expression playful software Optimize for fun

re - take back the future