The “fairy imprisoned” in the box

I was particularly struck by Tagore’s tale of the “The Man from the Moon” who encounters a gramophone for the first time. He says the Man will “write about a fairy imprisoned in that box, who sits spinning fabrics of songs expressing her cry for a far-away magic casement opening on the foam of some perilous sea, in a fairyland forlorn.” — and that’s not a bad thing, because imagining world manifest with ¬†companionship moves us closer to unity.

Could Tagore be describing a radical purpose for technology in this story? Perhaps the purpose of machines (or the ones the insides of which we can’t easily understand) is to stir our creative imagination to weave stories of companionship from our material surroundings?

3 thoughts on “The “fairy imprisoned” in the box

  1. this is an interesting point. i would argue that most technology really is the “fairy in te box” for most people – even for me, computers really do work by fairy dust despite all my posturing and apparent control. in some sense, the point of technology is to abstract this complexity away from the end user so that she may think about other things.

    rather than ‘weave stories of companionship,’ perhaps not-knowing about machines – i.e. the abstraction i refer to or the fairy Tagore evokes – threatens to make the companionship of material technology as meaningful (that is, as obtuse/black-box-ish) as the companionship of other people

  2. I like the idea of the abstraction of technology fooling us into making companionship with machines into something approaching companionship with other people. Actually, I just had a related discussion last week in a CS course I’m taking, where we read the original ‘On Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ article by Turing . After a lot of discussion about what intelligence was and the inherent unknowability of whether a computer could ‘think’ or not, we ended up sort of converging on the idea that what makes something seem intelligent to us has a lot to do with our inability to understand how it functions. That is, if a computer, or a record player, acted in a fashion following some procedure that I did not understand and could not reasonably imagine, that it would seem for all intents and purposes intelligent (for some definition of intelligent).

    At the risk of beating a dead horse, there is always that oft-quoted piece of wisdom from Clarke that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. I think that that’s true and that, more generally, it isn’t just magic but agency that we attribute to things we cannot understand.

  3. I read Tagore as seeing “art” as a solution to much of life’s limitations, or what he calls “limited reality”. In this case, the art at hand is music. The Man on the Moon is not moved by the wood of the gramophone, nor the disc, nor the “individual notes”, but instead the “personal message” he sees in the music. His is not moved by the technology itself, but that which the technology allows. In a certain sense, I found Tagore as seeing humanity, at its core, a creative and artistic species as opposed to a merely a logical and rationalist one:

    “The ultimate truth of our personality is that we are no mere biologists or geometricians; “we are the dreamers of dreams, we are the music-makers.”

    After reading the Man From the Moon, I got a feeling that Tagore would want technology, at the very least, to be a tool for creative and personal expression.

Comments are closed.