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How a Smartphone Is Like a Spellbook

I probably shouldn't be admitting this, but I played a little Dungeons & Dragons in junior high and high school.

Working with a smartphone app called Shazam to capture the name of a song off the car radio reminded me rather vividly of that geeky pastime last night.

In D&D, you had this concept of a spellbook. The idea was that your character had to choose a spell that might be useful in some future crisis. You'd copy it into a spellbook and study it a bit so you'd be ready to unleash it later.

The process is not at all dissimilar to the way we accumulate apps now. You have to hear about it from a friend or just wonder if an app exists for something you're thinking about doing. You search for it, download it, then familiarize yourself with the interface.

In the case of Shazam, if you've run the app a few times, you're ready when some mysterious song is playing and you have only a few seconds to capture it. If everything comes together, you've got the name of the song.

What's more is that with the portability of the phone, this, shall we say, magical power, is with you any time you've got battery power and a good enough signal.

That's as far as I'll stretch that metaphor other than to reveal another geeky side of myself by quoting one of Arthur C. Clarke's laws: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Shazam.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 17, 2011