TOO MUCH MAGIC. A book that helps explain our inability to stop buying gear. And much more.

I have a book addiction and I'm not ashamed of it.  There's a ton of great stuff out there in the book-o-sphere.  And the focus it takes to write and produce a great book means that there's more signal and less noise in a book than in most other media.  I know from past experience that most of my readers here at VSL love to read.  Otherwise they wouldn't trudge through my longer posts.  We've pretty much scared off the people who profess to not like reading much...

Today, instead of crooning about the latest cameras or doing another heartfelt post about shooting with your heart instead of your brain, I'm reviewing a book that has absolutely nothing to do with photography and everything to do with why we enjoy photography less, feel as though we have less time to devote to our photography and can't seem to get a foothold onto the steep cliff of creative expression.  And why we're spinning our wheels instead of getting stuff done.

Reader, Jason Benlevi, sent me his book entitled, "Too Much Magic.  Pulling the Plug on the Cult of Tech." (full disclosure:  It is a review copy, paperback, and no other value or exchange of services has occurred to, in any way, influence my reviewing of the book.)

The book is both a history of our entanglement with, and accommodation of, all the devices and programming and social interfaces that the past 100 years of technological advancement brought to the consumer.  Benlevi makes a very good case that every new application and device has a useful side and a dark side and that we, as consumers, are being pushed into choices and use patterns without informed consent. And without truthfully acknowledging the dark sides.

I  won't go into detail and spoil a great read for you but one of the statements that jumped out at me concerned the shift in our focus of brain and financial resources.  At one point, two generations back, we (the U.S.A.) sent men to the moon.  Now, with our focus on recreational and sales oriented websites as targets for our joint venture dollars the only way we can get our people to the international space station is to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft.  We our the masters of "I'm at Starbucks!"  "Do these shoes make me look fat?" and other important social interactions.  But at the same time we earn less than we did 20 years ago and work harder.

Benlevi is a good writer and he makes the concepts flow.  His time lining of our tech history helps all the concepts fall nicely into place.  His ability to show both sides of the tech coin comes from his own long history in the technology world. He is a hardly an outsider. 

If you've felt uneasy about the massive intrusion and implied necessity of social networking in your life but you don't understand why you feel uneasy or what to do about it, then this book is for you.

If you think an iPad is a tool to enhance your creativity then this book is for you. 

We are being stalked for our consumer information every minute we're on the web or on our phones.  The people who vacuum up our information are deciding what we will see and what we won't.  They are using the information to help us spend more and to spend it more often.  They are helping us relentlessly upgrade.  Find out how and find out why.

I got the book yesterday afternoon and finished the 361 pages over coffee this morning.  That's all I have to say because I'm off to pull the plug on my Facebook account.


  1. Kirk wrote:
    "I'm off to pull the plug on my Facebook account."


  2. "We've pretty much scared off the people who profess to not like reading much...", leaving behind people who don't mind a split infinitive between friends.

  3. A person very close to me just declared Face Book boring. Maybe all this social networking is running it's course. I enjoy some of the Flickr groups I belong to that echo my interests but Twitter & Google + are are becoming the web based version of junk mail ads that the post man used to deliver.

  4. Totally agree with that. The new paradigm is to pick up the phone and invite your friends to coffee....

    1. Yes, a perfect way to get out of the web rut.

    2. Amen to that Kirk! And invite them by *old fashioned* speech too instead of SMS. Not forgetting to "order" said friends to switch their phones off when enjoying the coffee time too! Ah bliss.

  5. Facebook schmacebook. Twitter splatter. Google+ gag me.
    Must be getting to be old and a crumudgeon.

    Speaking of books, I bought a popular book right before Christmas about "Going Pro" as a photographer. The author truely believes, and constantly stessed the importance of being constantly connected to the world with Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media available to you. It was such a turn off to me that I never finished THAT book, and for a while doubted my desire that I "had what it would take" to be a professional photographer. Fortunately, I realized that I don't "have to" do anything like that. Maybe I'll never be a successful professional photographer because I chose "not to do it". I don't care. I'm a lot happier without all of that sort of "social interaction".

    After 28 years of electrical engineering, where I work mainly in isolation and the majority of my communication is via email, why on earth would I want to become a "real professional photographer" who works mainly in isolation and the mojority of my communication is via Facebook, Twitter and Google+? That jsut doesn't make any sense to me. No, I would want to become a professional photographer so that I could interact with people MORE, especially face-to-face.

    Sorry to use your comments section as my "rant and rave" platform today, Kirk.

    1. Greg, Utilizing the web for promoting a photography business is a good use of the technology. Potential customers can find you and see what you have to offer. The constant din of "photo walk hang outs" and "look at me I'm a photographer" on the social sites are getting old real fast.

    2. Frank, OK, I understand that. That's why I have may personal web site (you can Bing or Google for Gregg Mack Photography).

      I agree with you that it is the social networking sites that I just don't buy into.

    3. I like the portraits. The lighting looks good.

  6. We'll grow up in the internet age one day. We're still relative infants in this tech overload. I don't know where we'll end up, but I'm certain we'll grow out of reporting our last bowel movement to the world and "automating" creative processes. Just because we can solve something electronically these days that used to be an analog equation doesn't mean it's a good idea to do so.

    I'm also humble enough to know that those of us in our 40s and 50s are not going to be the ones to chart the way out of this techno jungle. We're still deeply rooted in memories of analog and our solutions tend to be retro-grouch in spirit. Our kids who barely know CD music and wouldn't know what to do with bunny ear TV antennas will show us the rightful place that tech can play in a PRODUCTIVE life. Once they grow up out of their "me, me, me" period.

    When they get there, we'll welcome them back to reality with open arms!

    1. "I'm also humble enough to know that those of us in our 40s and 50s are not going to be the ones to chart the way out of this techno jungle." You just made me feel old (I turn 40 this year) and yet I do yearn for the analog. My oldest kid has never even seen a phone with physical numbers, just an iPhone. Maybe that's why I'm so inexplicably drawn to my Fuji X100 and X10...they "feel" analog yet remain firmly digital.

  7. I found it ironic that your link to the book about too much magic (technology) is to the kindle edition.

  8. I find it ironic that we're talking about it on a blog. Maybe the Kindle is just enough magic....

    1. Maybe. The author himself says he loves technology (5 questions & answers on the Amazon page). I wonder if this is the type of book that's convincing enough to make people who read it feel guilty because they realize they should break away, but don't. Like when you read about how to be healthy, but then don't do it. It sounds like an intriguing book. I might see if the library has it for summer reading.

  9. amen!

    i for one have never even had a facebook account - nor twitter - i find them the worst waste of bandwidth that we have had since the previous incarnation of the same crap, myspace (does anyone even remember it?).
    i am hoping/thinking they will follow the same path down to nowhere, where they belong.
    in the meantime though, armies of brainwashed people embraced them and kept feeding into the nonsense.

    books are my addiction too; whenever i try to rationalize it, i think it is really stupid, the only place for books should be libraries, since the book is something you pick up, read once, and then put away forever ... but then when you are inside a bookstore, and you actually feel them and smell them ... you just HAVE TO take them home :-)

    i did try to use a nook for a while (i liked it better than the kindle, i thought it was a more open system), but after the initial excitement (wow, now i can carry hundreds of books with me on the plane without breaking my back), i slowly went back to paper, and gave the nook away.

    we live in a society that has been brainwashed for generations to buy buy buy. it is hard to re-educate people; i am hoping it is not impossible.

    1. This is exactly the retro-grouch attitude that seems appealing on the face of it, but is detrimental to progress in the long term. Surely the sentiment that we're inundated with technology is true. But the solution to that situation does not lie in completely rolling back the clock. Sooner or later we'll find the middle ground where the technology works for us rather than us chasing it. I think Kirk's written intellectual struggles here regarding the photographic technology are a good start, even though he understandably suffers from "retro-grouchness" every once in a while. I think he's at his best when he's advocating for the creative thought process that pursues the idea first, and lets the technology fit where it falls.

    2. And I would say that when it comes to civilization, time (really 100% engaged) with family and friends, increased well being as a result of productivity, etc. Gadget technology has been a real FAIL.

      Where we're making progress is on the big business front where your buying history, personal finances, health and interests are all charted and recorded solely for the benefit of big business.

      My struggles aside, read the book and consider the source (the book author) before you quickly decide that technology is always a plus for people in general.

      A mom with her earbuds in out pushing a baby carriage sure isn't helping her child adapt language....

      Sidelining pure research for marketing fulfillment is likewise a short term euphoria.

    3. there is nothing 'retro grouch' about choosing which technology we decide to use/embrace, and which we do not want.

      it is not "all good for everybody", and neither it is "all bad".

      nobody advocates rolling back the clock; what i do 'advocate' is refusing to go along blindly with anything just because everybody else is doing it.
      i want to be able to choose if i want to read a paper book or the electronic version of it, if i want to shoot with an antiquated film camera or with a state of the art new machine.
      the point is not refusing the present or the future, it is to achieve a balance that makes US happy, not the people who want to sell us more stuff we do not need.

      "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. "

    4. "A mom with her earbuds in out pushing a baby carriage sure isn't helping her child adapt language...."

      True enough, Kirk. But a mom armed with an iPad or two and using apps like Khan Academy to help teach geometry and algebra to a 4th grader is a good use of technology in my book. And that is what happens in my house. I would not have embraced such "tech"...opting instead for the analog printed page and the good old pencil and paper.

      I think my point is that we ought not be too quick to dismiss any particular technology simply because it does not fit our own definition of "useful", and particularly when we have no experience with it, such as Mr. Stefano60 did above with Facebook and Twitter. I might agree with him, but have developed that having several years of experience with those platforms. I keep them only to keep tabs with family and friends not local to me. That way when we do get the opportunity to visit in person, I know to ask about the new job, the vacation, the new nephews and nieces, etc. It took me a while and some wasted time to figure that out. We could argue whether that time would have been better spent elsewhere, but today Facebook is a useful, minor few minutes of my day.

      In the same way, reading this blog is a useful few minutes in my day. Your writing helps keep me focused and grounded when the temptation is to surf site-to-site in search of the next geegaw that will make me a better photographer. Instead, I'm inspired to put away the electronics and get out the door.

      Nevertheless, I think I'm in basic agreement with the sentiment here. And I will read the book...and get off this comment section today and out the door with a camera! ;-)

    5. simply put, i CHOSE not to join those two platforms, and i am really glad i never did.

      i did join a similar one, linkedin, thinking it was more business oriented, which it is - to a point; once you are able to control the amount of pointless updates on what everyone else is doing - like we should all care if they just arrived at an airport or visited a store - then it has its limited usefulness.

      i think you got the wrong impression, i am actually in most cases a very early adopter of new technology, but again, i try to use my own head to make the decisions of which ones i adopt and/or stick with. i was an early adopter of the iphone and decided after a while that it was not as great as they made it to be and changed; i never got the ipad, i bought the galaxy tab instead, because i compared the two and preferred the latter. it is all a matter of personal choice.
      and now, off the computer and out in the real world too, good idea!

  10. I need to read that book you recommend. I've been involved with information technology on one level or another for the past thirty years, and have been warning people, especially lately, of the "dark side" of technology, especially the internet. People look at me like I'm a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist...but it's not so much that every detail of your life can be tracked (and is) the more you use social networking, it's the negative psychological, sociological and even spiritual implications that's the problem. We are basically trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel, and it will not work out any better for us now than it did the first time we tried it.

    Anyway, for those who want to delete their Facebook account, here's a some help that you will need to accomplish it:

  11. I just purchased the Kindle version of the book via Amazon. Then had what had been a relaxing and pleasant morning over my coffee destroyed as I became mired in the process of actually retrieving the book on my Kindle. Thus validating the book's premise.

  12. Thanks for the heads up on the book, I'll try and grab a copy to read....on my iPad (of course). I too have been pondering pulling the personal FaceBook plug. I find it all pretty useless and annoying, yet if you aren't on FB it's almost as if you don't exist. Odd. Uneasy. I have to read this book! THANKS!

  13. And as I read this interesting thread, I am being tracked by Amazon Associates. Google+1, Google Analytics and Google FriendConnect.

  14. I just don't get why it has to 'own' you.

    I participate and enjoy social media, but it doesn't 'consume' me. I don't let it. I will merrily go off to the northern AZ badlands where there ain't no internets. And I will check in when I get back.

    But when I am here, I can check in with my friends, find some great articles to read on Twitter and FB links, and read a lot of wonderful writers who do not write for the MSM or traditional publishers. Blogs have opened the world to so much incredible information.

    But I still own my mouse.

    So many seem to think that it is an either/or situation. That means they are unable to moderate their own activity to me.

    Having a FB or Twitter or Pinterst or G+ or whatever else there is doesn't hinder our abilities as photographers.

    Our bad judgement, misplaced priorities, and lack of self control is far more damaging.

    Choice is one of the greatest things that people have to enhance their lives... take it away if you want, but I will stick with it. I love it. Bring on more choices and more 'distractions' - I will investigate, research and CHOOSE which to participate in.

    Life. It is grand!

  15. Interesting that my wife gave up facebook for Lent. She said she is not getting more done, because she is reading novels. I asked her if it was a more enriched experience. She said yes, without hesitation.

  16. I find it interesting how many people cheer your Facebook closure on from their Blogger (= Google) accounts. Google is far worse than Facebook in so many ways, and aggregates and markets personal data much more aggressively. With the recent (and illegal in Europe) combination of all Google accounts, information will be shared and aggregated to an even greater extent than before.

    I have recently closed all my Facebook and Google accounts. My email is with my local ISP and my website as well, with some extra photo posting and blogging going on at 500px.com.

    On the tech side, I have been very happy with my Nikon D3 for a long time now, wanting just a little more colour fidelity, dynamic range and resolution, for better large prints, but the D4 is too expensive for my taste, and the D800 has too many MP for my poor Mac mini. I thought for a long time about getting an older D3x, but in the end have decided to get the D800E, and upgrade the ram on my Mac mini.

    My intention is to make this my last DSLR, as in ever. The D3 was so, so close to being what I wanted, and the D800E is more than enough. Since my camcorder is dying, its video is a welcome bonus and saves me carrying two devices. Time will show if this is all just good intentions or if I can actually pull it off, but I have started selling off all the stuff I accumulated over time but rarely use. So far, I have recuperated over 12000 Euro, which I have put on my loan, and towards the D800E.

    Another few months and I am hoping that I will have trimmed my kit to its final or near final form, and can just make photos without thinking about equipment any more. I was very close last year, may this year be the one!

    1. Carsten, my Google+ account was the first thing to go. That whole concept didn't work out well for anyone, in my opinion. Twitter next? Flickr to follow?

      That would leave me with this blog and 500px. Not overwhelming for me.

      My ISP+web host is a local, independent as well.

      More focus on the fun and being in the moment. Less worrying about the next moment...

  17. My friends in law enforcement say no one in that profession has a Facebook account. They feel that information about you will be sold, sometime, somewhere.

    On a different subject, I found it sad (but understandable in today's lawsuit-happy society) that you felt the need to put the disclaimer in front of the book review. As if your reputation no longer speaks for itself.


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