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Harry Potter and the Huge Disadvantage to Magic

Harry Potter startled
Harry is startled by the arrival of the Verizon Guy and his support army

Before I start with this, don’t get me wrong, I love magic, and I love Harry Potter, I’d love to live in that universe, and as soon as they open that theme park, I’m there. However when I rolled out of the theatre after watching that Half-Blood Prince movie, I had a burning desire to live in the HP universe, if only for my fool proof get rich quick scheme: hocking cell phones to wizards.

I see that look you’re giving me, and I know it sounds like I’m the tool in the back of the movie who’s talking about how magic is “lame” but hear me out here: there is nothing that the wizarding world can offer that can compete with a simple, honest cell phone. Think about it: you’ve gotten that letter to Hogwarts you’ve wanted since you read Book One and you’re off to Hogwarts. When the wizard kids want to talk to their folks what do they have to do while you pick up your phone?

Well, they can write a letter, climb seventy or so flights of stairs to climb up to the owl loft, avoid being nipped by the bird as they tie the letter (very securely) to the creature’s leg, or put an envelope in its beak, then send it off. They’ll have their reply in three or four days. Option B, they can grab a handful of Floo Powder and cram their head in a fireplace! Doesn’t that sound delightful? I sure hope mom and dad are home cause otherwise they’ve just gotten a face full of ash for nothing. Meanwhile you’ve called your mom, dad, sister, cousin, aunt, friend from high school all with total privacy.

[ad#longpost]Think about all those exchanges in the later books when professors and covert wizard agents are sending people in portraits to go to one of their other portraits and get someone’s attention, when all a muggle would have to do is pick up their phone. If I could get a small Verizon outlet in Hogsmeade and a cell phone tower I’d be rolling in it.

Of course I’m sure Dumbledore would shell out some dough for me to install some Hogwarts computer labs as well…I’m just saying. I mean, digitizing all of the Hogwarts library on to hard disc and putting those dark arts books into secure file storage I would think would cut down on their graduate-turned-dark-wizard rate.

And cars? Don’t get me started about cars… Here are your transport options in the HP world:

  • Floo Powder: Single traveler only, only luggage is what you can carry.
  • Thestrals: All the fun of riding a horse, but now at 5,000 feet, so please enjoy puking your guts out. And did I mention if you didn’t catch Great Uncle Ben at his death bed you can’t even see them?
  • Of course, there are broomsticks, like having your own personal jet engine between your freaking legs. Also, maximum passenger load of two, and all the danger of motorcycles, plus the altitude thing mentioned earlier.
  • Apparation and Portkeys are great but both of them require high magical skill and leave you disoriented and nauseous. Apparation is even impossible with more than two people.
  • Now, most of you Scar-Heads out there (hmm, did I just coin a new potter fan name? Perhaps.) will mention two other modes of transportation in Harry’s universe but remember that both of them are enchanted muggle vehicles–which I will mention–are both used by wizards in their non-enchanted forms that I mentioned above. If a wizard has to eventually take a muggle driver’s test, flying isn’t all that great.

    Now, let us consider the biggest disadvantage of magic over muggle technology: guns. I hear the cry of bullshit from the audience, so let me explain it in some very specific HP examples. Firstly, a gun can be operated by almost anyone with a two minute crash course. The wizarding equivalent, an Avada Kedavra curse, requires practice and that the person casting it must really want to kill the person. I will remind those of you that didn’t pay attention to your Saturday morning PSAs that you can kill a person with a gun without even intending to pull the trigger. Also consider the wizard’s immediate defensive reflex: the shield charm. Firstly, the main defensive reflex of a wizard is designed to protect against spells, not projectiles. That is pure conjecture, of course, but what isn’t is the fact that Fred and George Weasley state that most wizard’s can’t cast a decent shield charm and so–blam, you can kill a wizard. Also, last time I checked you could use a firearm without screaming really loudly that you were about to do it.

    So in summation, if Harry and the gang had just followed my lead, they could have looked for all the horcruxes using Wikipedia, texted their friends to tell them secretly what was going on, hopped in the car, and if Voldemort found them in the meantime, they could’ve put two in his head and had ten years to find all of the damn MacGuffins before Voldy could get himself a new body.

    And Here endeth the rant.


    • I know I’m taking this more seriously than intended, but . . . the cell phone thing wouldn’t work. J.K. Rowling specifically stated (I don’t remember whether it was in an interview or somewhere within the books) that technology won’t work at Hogwarts. So while it might have been a way for the trio (and others) to keep in touch with family members when they aren’t at school, having a cell phone wouldn’t have helped in HBP.

      Furthermore, there are at least two, more effective, less risky ways to communicate in the wizarding world than the ones you mention. First, the Order sends messages through their patronuses. The drawbacks are that the communication may be only one way (though I’m not sure about that and even if it is, it’s certainly no worse than a letter) and I’m not sure that it’s instantaneous, though it seems to be pretty quick. At least in HBP (I forget about Deathly Hallows), Harry doesn’t know how to do this. The second method would be through pairs of magic mirrors created for the purpose. Those we know exist and work in the wizarding world. The only question is whether they only work in pairs or whether you could set up whole networks of them — in which case they would be the wizarding world’s answer to cell phones.

    • I’d rather take at-will teleportation than a car any day of the week, even if it takes time to master and even if there’s a tiny chance of catastrophic error (as though you can’t mangle your body hideously just as easily by being careless behind the wheel).

      It’s even implied that Apparation isn’t *that* hard — the Apparation class they take isn’t even a real class, it’s the equivalent of a Driver’s Ed course, and they treat the prospect of somehow flunking and never being allowed to Apparate as being just as unlikely and humiliating as a 16-year-old Muggle would treat never being allowed to drive.

      I sort of agree with the other points, but Apparating really is the wizarding world’s killer app. Teleportation at will is *way* too awesome to replace with any Muggle form of technology — the really surprising thing is how comparatively little it comes up in the story (because the main characters are minors who aren’t licensed to Apparate and most of the action takes place in Hogwarts).

    • Arthur: I think this speaks to something that Rowling did that might be discussed extensively in scarhead circles, but I haven’t seen much on it–her world-building skills. She basically created the Rules of the world (and most specifically Hogwarts, because as you said, that’s your primary locale) so that I don’t recall thinking that something Made No Sense or just fell apart from a technical point of view on the writing side. I guess that’s why I’d like to see the world explored more, just because good worlds are hard to find. And are seldom fed and cared for properly.

      Miriam: Magic mirrors are good, but one of the things that drove me nuts is that Harry didn’t use the one he had at the right time. I must say that was bordering on a “Spanish Prisoner moment” for me. (Definition: when you know something the characters don’t, that’s just dramatic irony–however when you know something, the characters don’t, and the characters should have reasonably figured it out/remembered it about a half-hour ago–that’s frustrating as hell and can take you out of the story–like in the movie The Spanish Prisoner).

    • Well, okay, but that’s the thing — it’s acceptable for transportation in the wizarding world to suck for those who can’t Apparate (minors or Muggle-borns who haven’t learned how to Apparate) because almost all adults *can* Apparate and Apparation is so awesome it obviates the need for any other kind of transportation infrastructure. It makes sense that, in an environment like this, you wouldn’t really have any kind of robust non-teleportation transpo options except for recreational purposes (broomsticks) or as a giant one-way funneling system to get the non-Apparating minors to Hogwarts (the thestral carriage). It even makes sense that the one public transportation system we see, the Knight Bus, is clearly more a place for the drunk or senile (i.e. those not in a mental state to Apparate) to sleep it off rather than a real transportation system.

      It makes perfect sense that a non-Apparating person would find themselves hamstrung and isolated in such a world, just like a person who can’t drive a car for whatever reason would find modern-day America damn inconvenient, and how it might become even *more* inconvenient for such a person if cars didn’t cost any money and were a built-in mental ability most people were born with.

    • Miriam:

      Fair point about the tech at Hogwarts bit, but now that you mention it, I do have to wonder whether or not it’s that technology can’t or technology doesn’t. If it can’t, I can’t see any reason muggle technology couldn’t be enchanted to do so. And if it doesn’t, that means that it’s intentional and the block could be removed.

      The Patronus issue I will answer since I forgot about it, Patronus communication is, as you imply, terribly advanced magic, and not everyone can do it, also it is akin to letter writing and not instantaneous. Even if they’re operating at very high speeds text messaging still afronts more privacy. The mirrors are a great point, and actually would probably be better than cell phones if they could call multiple people.

      Thanks for the awesome comments everybody!

    • Widge: I totally agree. I know he theoretically completely forgot about it because he swore to himself that he’d never use it, but still . . . grrr. Actually, I find it even more annoying that, at the critical moment in OotP, Hermione doesn’t seem to remember that Snape is a member of the Order. Harry could well have rejected going to Snape out of hand, and the only excuse I can think of for Hermione not suggesting it is that she was sure that would be his reaction, but it still seems rather un-Hermione-like not to at least timidly put it forth when Harry complains to her that there’s no one left from the Order they can tell. I don’t remember whether or not I actually shouted at the book the first time round, but I’m pretty sure I slammed it down and refused to pick it up again for several minutes when Harry finally remembers that Snape’s in the Order. So that’s my “Spanish Prisoner moment” for that book.

    • evrwrldBB: I do question how difficult it really is to create a patronus, since I happen to agree with the assessment that Harry isn’t really fantastically talented (though I do think he’s better than mediocre) and he was able to cast a patronus charm at 13 and then teach nearly everyone in the DA to do it when they were all between 12 (Dennis Creevey was only a second year at the time, for all that JKR had him allowed to visit Hogsmeade) and 17. And if one can create a patronus, is it really that much harder to use one to communicate?

      Setting that aside, I do think that speed-wise it’s probably at least equivalent to texting, and even if you’re right about the privacy (I thought I remembered someone getting a message through a patronus that Harry couldn’t hear because it wasn’t for him, but I might be imagining that), one thing that a patronus gives that a cell phone can’t is a guarantee about who’s sending the message. Because the patronus is unique to the sender, you can be sure that the message hasn’t been tampered with and isn’t being sent by an enemy. (I was just watching a mystery which involved a cell phone being cloned and, of course, cell phones can always be stolen.)

      As far as making the technology work by magic goes, that may be theoretically possible, since JKR does say that’s how Colin’s camera works. And in the wizarding world in general, they adopted the idea of the radio, though making it work without electricity. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, she also says the wizards tend to be behind the times when it comes to technology, which brings me to another point: the books are meant to take place (for the most part) between 1991 and 1998. At this time, cell phones weren’t nearly so prevalent in even the muggle world as they are today; there wasn’t the same sort of assumption that everyone should be able to instantly communicate with everyone else. It would not surprise me at all to find out that by the time of the epilogue, some entrepeneuring wizard (perhaps with the last name Weasley) had indeed come up with a wizarding analogue to the cell phone, which might or might not involve mirrors. But for the time of the stories, especially OotP where a cell phone might have been most useful (or not, depending on who answered it), the lack of such an instant communication tool still makes sense.

      Incidentally, can I ask what events in HBP set this rant off? As you can see from my posts and maybe Widge’s as well, I would have thought it was more likely to be a reaction to OotP (or maybe GoF, where communicating by floo powder first came up).

    • Got to say you do make well thought out points Miriam, I’d say it was the fact that for Dumbledore to ger messages to Harry he always had to either give messages to other students or to snape, and I was just contemplating how much easier cell phones would have made things.

    • hmm, that “lol, I guess so.” was directed at Widge’s comment about the caller ID not evrwrldBB’s intervening comment (which hadn’t appeared at the time I put my comment in).

      To evrwrldBB, thank you. And I’d say the same for you, even if I do have some quibbles :-) For instance, I hadn’t really thought about the difficulties for wizards to travel with luggage, even though they’re always carting those trunks around. And now I can see where you’re coming from in HBP, though I’d have to admit I’d never even have thought about the possibility of Dumbledore using a cellphone to get in touch with Harry. The idea of a teacher using a cellphone to contact a student within a school just seems odd to me, though I suppose it would have simplified things.

    • I admit that guns do have quite some advantages over wands, but wands do have infinite ammo, extra uses, possibly the ability to bypass armor (I repeat: POSSIBLY), and don’t have to worry about standard gun safety.

      Although I’d still want a shotgun if Voldemort came after me.

    • Just a little correction: Apparition _can_ take more than two people. And one person can guide the Apparition of others (Deathly Hallows, Hermione guiding Ron and Harry’s Apparition to locations of her choosing, such as the Forest of Dean).

    • Oh, and re: technology at Hogwarts, Hermione points out that technology “cannot” work at the school because of the level of background magic (_Goblet_, as I recall). And by technology, she means electricity. Colin’s camera, for instance, is presumed to be a manual advance, non-electric model. So, non-electric technology should work as should non-electric versions of advanced devices (non-electric cell phone?).

      Re: Dumbeldore’s messages to Harry: students carrying messages from administrators to other students (or teachers doing so) is still standard practice in most schools today, if the PA system isn’t used (I’d imagine Dumbledore wouldn’t use the PA because he wanted his messages kept secret/quiet).

    • Guns don’t work around magic. Jk Rowling said so in the books. You can’t use a gun by magic being used so a shield spell does stop a bullet because the gun can’t function.
      Heck, an apprentice wizard can levitate a feather to stop a gun.

    • Thanks to everybody for the comments. I’d especially like to say to Marker, hell yes, shotgun is the weapon of choice for most anything. That being said, all you guys might enjoy this idea as well.

    • I hate to say this, but you forgot flying carpets… which are like flying cars, but without the protection from the weather that cars offer you. (They do make a passing reference to flying carpets). Still the point remains.

      As for weapons… Honestly, I dunno about you, but I’d rather have a weapon that I can dial the lethality of. With a gun you got two options, shoot to kill, or pray you don’t kill them by shooting them. Rubber bullets do not assist much, nor do tazers (Which are also quite likely to do more serious damage then their non-lethal tag would lead you to believe). Or maybe hitting them with a billy club, or trying Barf and Run gas, or using other such weapons.

      On the other hand a good stupify blast will paralyse someone for a signfigant amount of time with minimal risk of death, and there are hundreds of other curses and hexes out there that can slow down your opponent. As for lethal spells, perhaps Avra Kadavra is the only KILLING curse, but one can kill someone with a room full of fire, or other such simpler spells.

      On the other hand computers and phones are a lot more useful then musty old books and paintings which are equally musty

    • Oh, and as a side note: Using a handful of the mentioned spells, a computer, and a ton of free time I could use magic to prove P=NP (Which has been proven false in this world)

    • Erm… Harry’s adventures take place in England. So even if he’d remembered that guns kill bad guys even more reliably than Unforgiveable Curses, where’d he get one?

    • Thanks again for everybody’s comments…LBD, just for the record, I have encountered some musty computers.

      Carbonel: I would say they’d need to talk to Nick the Greek.

    • Er-A.J. Hall, in her Harry Potter fanfic Lust Over Pendle, had Hermione magically adapting Muggle mobile phones for Wizard use, complete with security features and eavesdropping capabilities. They’re in use throughout the fanfic, in a number of funny and ingenious ways.

      But Neville and Draco still communicate by Owl, so I quess most Wizards still prefer to Say It The Old Fashioned Way.

    • Agreed with the whole article, and I’ve thought about it many times before. There’s only one catch if all this were true.

      Then there wouldn’t be a Harry Potter series. :P

    • Oh, of course. But it’s fun to kick the ideas around regardless. :-) I like the people elsewhere who have given evrwrldBB a hard time about taking Harry Potter too seriously…it’s like people saying it’s pointless to talk about X character from one franchise fighting Y character from another. This is geekdom at its purest, I think. That and how you can accuse somebody of being too serious when talking about giving Voldemort “two in the head” is beyond me…

    • I think the whole point of a magical world is just to imagine a world as rule dependent as the human world, just that the rules are arbitrary from our point of view. Our world is just as magical as HP’s, but we are so used to it that the charm has been lost! Anyway you can imagine a spell to disrupt cell phones in Hogwarts. Other important point about the HarryP series is that the emotional and social pains of being a magician are just the same of being a muggle, so the saga is already about humans, as is any intelligent fantastical story.

    • Loosely quoting from Fudge, “But the other side has magic too.” Even if the heroes DID have guns, then logic follows that so would Voldemort or at least some of the deatheaters.

      The lack of Muggle technology is clearly a cultural thing, and with magic making wizard lives so easy, the development of technology in their own culture is limited. That’s something I’ve run into a lot in my own stories. Very little technological development, with magic fulfilling the demand that would have called for an invention.

      Not that I don’t agree with you, but honestly I don’t think it would have had an effect as the bad guys would have had the same advantages and everything would have balanced out!

    • ummmmm harry potter is set in the 90s…cell phones weren’t popularized til the 2000s…way to be

    • Ariel: I had my first cell phone in the 90s. Regardless, the first generation of cell phone networking was done in the UK in the early 80s. But if you really want to split hairs about a timeline, everybody knows that some of the magic cited in the books wasn’t widely practiced until 2001. So, you know, the door swings irrelevantly and irreverently both ways.

    • You couldn’t set up a Verizon anything in the UK, as we don’t have that network provider here. Personally, I like that there’s no technology in the wizarding world. When playing our Harry Potter RPG I actually crafted Prefect badges that can send what are effectively text messages to one another, and they have come in handy without the need for Muggle gadgets!

    • Sorry, scarheads. There are both simple and complex machines in the HP world, and guns are simple machines. A prison zip gun will kill you bang dead (sorry about the pun, eh?), and the only moving part is the firing pin itself, driven by a rubber band. If HP magic can overcome the technology of a flooping *rubber band* then the universe is a pretty scary place.

    • You idiot, the action takes place in the 90’s which means there weren’t many phones back there.

    • Silviu: So if the author of the article is an idiot, what does that make somebody who has no sense of humor exactly?

    • Book 4 – Harry and Hermione are talking about Draco using Walkie Talkie. She says that electricity and devices like that dont work around magical places