Is Reading Magic?
You might not know the sound of my voice, but you know what I am saying. You would be able to repeat my words to another even if you had never met me. If you are reading these words 200 years after I have passed on from this mortal realm, you would still be able to hear what I have said. You could paint them on canvas, carve them into wood, scratch them into stone, itch them into skin... and still the words could be passed on and heard by others so long as they know the "magic of reading".
...and of course understand English or something equivalent.
I would say it is something pretty magical. We could be sitting -- or standing -- here communicating, by me having recited this into a microphone and recording it as an mp3 file or podcast and you playing my spoken words, but that would require some sort of technology to duplicate. If you print this on paper you can carry it with you and anyone who can see and read English will be able to understand it simply by looking at it -- anyone who understands this magic.
It strikes home with me at times more strongly than others. I researched "runes" -- the primitive letter system used by cultures such as the Norse -- in local and university libraries and one of the articles referred to runic writing found in Kiev. This was the ancient city of Kiev from a time when it was inhabited in part by Norse Traders before 1000 AD. There were bits of writing found on scraps of bark which were found in odd places where they might have been lost or stuck. Places like where they might have gotten between floorboards in wood walkways or in cracks in walls. I am not talking about ancient scrolls here. What struck me was that some were notes saying such things as "pick up three eggs on the way home" or "meet me after class" or "I like Ivan. He is cute." -- things that you might find on notes in any school child's pocket today... or do they only "text" now? I can not remember the exact content of the few notes that they made example of as it was over 20 years ago, but could find it probably. What was said in the article in "Scientific American" (Probably from the 1980's) was that this showed the people used runic writing in their everyday lives.
What I want to say with this is that when we read this -- or could if we were runic readers and understood the language of the Kievian Norse traders -- we are reading the words of a parent or child from over 2000 years ago! ...not some priestly incantation on a pyramid or other monument, but from the scraps of bark from a child's pocket.
We might do a lot with computers like here on the Internet -- I really love using my notebook computer, for instance -- and I would like to get an eBook reader of some sort and perhaps an even more portable way to take notes and write* -- but I can take a book anywhere and read it so long as there is light for my eyes and the environment wouldn't harm the paper. (Reading in swimming pools can be hard on books.) But I don't need a "reader" to read a book once it has been printed.
Reading and writing are very important arts and to someone who does not know how to read, must be a bit like magic. I think to a primitive culture that isn't literate, reading and writing would indeed be "Magic" as much as anything else could be. It is a magic that can be learned and taught of course.
It is also a magic that can open whole worlds!
* Notepads and pencils are wonderful and portable and while I do use them, I have problems with handwriting due to learning disorders and so I tend to rely on typing and other methods of writing that take handwriting out of the equation. I would rather use a trusty notepad when out and about.