Deanna Day, a grad student at my alma mater, wrote a nice little piece on “Harry Potter, Wizards, and How We Let Technology Create Who We Are.” It gets seriously into the weeds of the Harry Potter universe, but it makes a serious point about how magic and technology can shape their users:
Muggles and wizards alike are mystified by the mechanisms of objects like iPads and Sorting Hats, and this ignorance can often, ironically, create a deep sense of trust in these objects. We create stories that explain their behavior, and when our tools work, it cements the validity of those stories. How else to explain their mechanism, be it magical or mechanical? But when we allow our technologies to remain opaque, we also prevent ourselves from seeing the crucial ways they make us who we are….
Most of the piece is about how wands work, who can use them, and their relationship to their users (e.g., the whole “wand chooses the wizard” thing). She concludes:
[T]he stories that wizards tell about their tools don’t match up with how they’re used in practice. The wand chooses the wizard, because that’s what wizards want to believe about their type of magic. In this story, wizards are special, and wands are objective proof. In another example, the Sorting Hat is believed to reveal one’s true identity, until an arguing student reveals that the Hat’s interpretation — and its social consequences — are much more negotiable than its song would imply.
In this (and many other) ways, the wizarding world exists in parallel with the muggle world…. By pointing out some of the ways that the technologies of the wizarding world are constructed — and the kinds of wizards they construct — we might also be better able to see the workings of our own muggle magic. As we go about our lives using our mysterious technologies, what kinds of people are we enabling them to make up?