Tarot Cards and Tech Products

The other day, I told my father that I was amazed at how many psychics inhabit storefronts on busy streets in Lower Manhattan. How in the world do they pay their rent? And so many of them!

“Oh, I get it. Psychics are great, and Tarot Cards!”
“Tarot cards, Dad?”
“Yes, and I love horoscopes, too!”

My reaction: Utter disbelief. You see, my father is a lawyer and an agnostic — one of the most analytical and practical people that I know. Yet here he was telling me that he essentially believed in magic! I pressed him on the alarming contradictions — “You don’t believe in Noah’s Ark but decks of cards can tell you the future?” — and his explanation has profoundly changed my world view.

In his mind, whether or not palm readings are “real” or backed by science is beside the point — they are a means to an end. What is so amazing about tarot cards (and horoscopes and psychics and the lot) is that they lead you to critically think about things that otherwise wouldn’t cross you mind. If your horoscope mentions co-workers, you’ll likely be extra cognizant and cordial in the office that day. If tarot cards foresee an adventure in your future, newfound thoughts of vacations and potential hobbies will begin to trickle into your mind.

Psychics, horoscopes, and tarot cards are all tools that force introspection and lead you to new perspectives and behaviors.

That being said, I have not picked up a horoscope habit in the time since our conversation, yet my father’s perspective still so deeply resonates with me. At first, I couldn’t figure out, Why? Then I realized, the most popular consumer technology products (which I build as a profession) are analogous to tarot cards: Though easy to dismiss as trivial and silly, they are tools that lead us to adopt new perspectives and behaviors.

Not only can I now be considered “a photographer” for the first time, Instagram has changed the way I observe and appreciate my surroundings. These days, I’ll routinely stop dead in my tracks just to examine angles and light and patterns and objects (all of which I previously would’ve walked right by). All of a sudden, everything is interesting! Seriously, a two inch-wide square on a screen, that changes the color of what’s inside of it, has altered the way that I move about my physical environment and seek out new ones.

Similarly, before Snapchat came around I would have never found such humor and amusement in the mundanity of everyday life.

Since when were street signs, strangers, and silly faces so entertaining? Not only is it a vehicle for laughter and inside jokes (among other things), Snapchat has also caused me to stay connected, and reconnect with friends that I otherwise would’ve lost contact with: high school baseball teammates, college roommates who live across the country, even siblings stuck at home. All of this, from annotated photos that disappear after a few seconds!

And the list doesn’t stop there: Airbnb is the most recent example for me, as it is changing the way I perceive cities that I previously thought I knew. And of course, there’s the classic example of Twitter causing strangers to “flock” to and from bars and events. I am sure you could easily think of many, many other examples, too. We all have relationships with products that have changed the way we perceive and behave.

In fact, I think this observation extends way beyonds tarot cards and tech products. Malcolm Gladwell isn’t wholly “scientific” and probably a bit sensationalist, yet his theories cause you to reassess how you think about common societal dynamics — a “silly” means to a great end, no? And whether or not the Lakers make it to the playoffs is a relatively trivial matter, but this “game” will give you a common point of connection with strangers that you encounter in your daily life (and maybe even a little pick-up basketball exercise).

In the end, I think my Dad’s appreciation of tarot cards underlies a higher-level truth about human nature: We crave new perspectives and experiences but are in need of tools that help us find them. Forcing functions are powerful, even if they look silly. Point being: We shouldn’t assess things for what they are but what they enable. If a lady in a bejeweled gown, wielding fantastical cards, causes you to treat your wife with more respect or life with more enthusiasm, well, I’ve realized that’s a game worth playing.