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A shaman society secret to normal humans, in the late 2000s era where phones and the internet exist: why and how would they still put to work their black feathery friends?

They were crucial before all these fancy shmancy phones and the world wide web stuff came around, but now a Samsung flip phone can do their jobs faster.

What jobs would the shamans give them instead?

Notes:

  • most normal people don't really believe magic exists, so most of them don't really try to uncover the truth.
  • there exist evil shaman factions that may try to steal that information through using "cyberphantoms", spirit familiars that can go steal info on the web; or try to capture the crows themselves.
  • these sapient crows look almost identical to regular crows.
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    $\begingroup$ Spying......... $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Summing up the current four answers: the NSA can't continuously tap each and every sapient crow just by putting a big computer in the side room of an ATT central office. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ I just want to say that originally I read this not as 'Crows' but as 'Cows' - and I was incredibly confused for a moment - but then thought that Sentient Cows that could communicate long distance would also be hilarious. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2023 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord Everytime I see it on the hotlinks I read it as cows. I think I would also be interested in sapient cows. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2023 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord sapient Cows would be a disaster. "Fat and docile, big and dumb / They look so stupid, they aren't much fun [...] We will fight for bovine freedom / And hold our large heads high / We will run free with the Buffalo, or die / Cows with guns" ----------- Do you want an armed minotaur insurrection? Because that's how you get... $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2023 at 15:12

13 Answers 13

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Haven't you seen the LoTR? What uses has Saruman for the flock of crows? They are used to spy and refer to their Lord.

You can do the same. A smartphone, no matter which generation it is, still requires a person behind it to be operated.

A sapient crow instead can scout and survey autonomously, or also following pre assigned rules, priorities and rules of engagement.

Basically an AI powered drone, with feathers.

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    $\begingroup$ Birds are drones... en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birds_Aren't_Real $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Oct 16, 2023 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ speaking of drones, crows could easily place small shaped charges unto tank roofs much better than drones, as they won't be prone to jamming and would be harder to detect. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Oct 17, 2023 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ @sdfgeoff They're not drones, they're bugged: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/79261/75 $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Oct 17, 2023 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, what do you have against giving the crows their own smart devices? $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2023 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ God of War (2022) is another good example. I guess technically they're ravens, but close enough. Or skip the middleman and go straight to mythological Odin. Got a lot done with his birds. $\endgroup$
    – aroth
    Oct 18, 2023 at 3:33
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Crows can do many things that phones can't.

For instance, they can deliver many things besides messages. Small things, to be sure, but quite possibly of magic significance.

They can wriggle into places that are far too small for a human, and easily fly to places that require magic for humans.

They can operate automatously as guards, or spies, or simply watching over experiments.

They have probably done these things all along and regard phones as a way to ease their burdens.

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    $\begingroup$ Precisely. A crow might even deliver a message into a prison or other containment facility where the recipient is not allowed to have a phone or use a computer. $\endgroup$
    – Cloudberry
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ A spy crow with a phone can do many things a spy crow without can't. Like playing a match-3 game and getting distracted from the target. $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2023 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ they can also eat the message if they think they are going to be intercepted so it's more secure. $\endgroup$
    – Aequitas
    Oct 18, 2023 at 0:47
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Messages sent via phones and internet are sent via multiple parties: the local providers at the end, and one or more backbone providers. Each of them can be compromised, either because they are hacked, or they are forced to by law enforcement. Which means, your messages may not be secret and even if you encrypt them, you will still be leaving trails. Worse, you don't know whether the message you did send was inspected, or even tampered with. Furthermore, a state level actor can just shut off the phone network and/or the internet.

Sentient crows are much harder to intercept, and it's even harder to do so and extract/tamper with the message it is relaying without the crow knowing this has happened.

Besides, sentient crows are just cool, and shamans like cool stuff.

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  • $\begingroup$ "you don't know whether the message you did send was inspected, or even tampered with" - avoiding inspection and detecting and preventing tampering is a big part of information security (and is mostly achieved through various forms of encryption). $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 18, 2023 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ @NotThatGuy Unfortunately, you have no way of verifying if the parties involved are implementing these security measures properly. $\endgroup$
    – alexgbelov
    Oct 19, 2023 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @alexgbelov Encryption is based on the general premise that any and every step between yourself and the other party could be compromised, and it would still work perfectly well in that case. It just requires that the endpoints implement it correctly and aren't themselves compromised, which the owners of those devices should have plenty of control over (although, short of manufacturing your own device and writing your own operating system, you would still need to trust others to some degree). $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 19, 2023 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Right, that's exactly my point. You're relying on other people to do the encryption for you; for all you know, their private key could have been compromised, or they're using an outdated algorithm, or maybe they're just keeping a plaintext copy of everything that comes their way before they encrypt it. $\endgroup$
    – alexgbelov
    Oct 19, 2023 at 15:57
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Feathernet

You've probably encountered the terminologies of "email" or "snailmail" when it comes to short text-based messages. However, there is also an informal/jocular terminology for when you want to send larger data packages: you can send data via "internet" or "sneakernet".

Basically, "sneakernet" is when you decide to put files on some USB thumb drives or portable hard drives or something, lace up your sneakers/shoes, and physically walk/deliver the drives to their destination. Sometimes it occurs because the cost of a plane ticket for "a guy with a backpack full of HDDs" cross-country is less expensive than transferring terabytes upon terabytes of data over the internet, other times it occurs because walking a 64GB thumb drive down the hall is faster than transferring the files over the office's old ethernet, or other times it is simply easier to verify "chain-of-custody" for high-security applications when your data is literally escorted from Point-A to Point-B.

The fact that the last few generations of shamans are digital-natives does not simply mean that everything gets done online all the time. Just like 90s kids traded burned CDs (because downloading entire albums via 56k could take literal days) 90s shams probably traded thumb drives - with the added speed and convenience of being able to just send a crow to fly across town instead of finding your friend at school the next day.

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Normal people might not search for the truth... but governments do

Governments have a nasty habit of not liking ignorance about the people within their borders. Oh, they may ignore those people completely... but they try not to misunderstand them. And the government would be delighted to know all about sapient crows because they'd use them the same way your society uses them.

To keep things secret.

Absolutely, modern smartphones and the internet are great ways to communicate... if you enjoy everything exposed to the government at best... and exposed to the public at worst. Members of your society may absolutely love using voice, text, email, messaging, and social media. But it's an absolute taboo to talk about the crows.

And I'd bet if there's one thing that's taboo, there are others. In your society, there may be all kinds of things the leaders don't want the government or the public to find out about.

So the crows are still used, just not as often. When the inner workings of the society (its faith, rituals, ceremonies, meeting, dogma, etc.) are discussed — out come the crows. And wouldn't you know it, they're also used to discuss things like (*ahem*) tax evasion, welfare milking, the current location of the proverbial Federales (and any other government or organizational representative the society doesn't want to deal with.)

Those crows are mighty useful.

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Crows actually think for themselves and make value judgments, and remember people and situations, based on research and my own experience interacting with them in the back yard. They solve puzzles.

So crows are more like autonomous contractors than even the most "intelligent" gadgets, which continuously remind us that they are semi-mindless parrots under that facade of "artificial intelligence". They also teach knowledge to each other, so they could pass information in the open if they used a secret language with key words. How would we know?

Gadgets, or even a one-time pad (if you get hold of both pads) can be hacked, but a thinking message courier can lie, evade capture, or trick observers into thinking they're just some dumb crow.

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They could still be used for communication. The internet and cellphones are vulnerable for critical communications because they're out of the shamans control. Plenty of criminals have been caught by phone tapping even in the old dial up days.

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Just like Mary C I am convinced crows can think for themselves. That makes them more than instruments of deception.

They can be ambassadors, but without the need for diplomatic passports and official recognition. They can observe and understand what they see. They can relay messages and explain the intention behind them. They can negotiate on behalf of others.

Maybe the crows can even be thought of as being a network comparable to what the Pugwash Conferences tried to be during the Cold War: Enablers of off-the-record contacts and behind-the-scenes influencers for peace and stability.

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Sentimentality

The modern phone and internet communication has taken over the post's former job of sending out communication between people.

But for personal touches, letters are still sent out to those who we care about.

And some still prefer to communicate by written letters too - despite it being much slower, they find some comfort in holding a written letter in their hands.

And much in the same way, especially for a shaman, I imagine sending messages by crow may just feel 'right', and in keeping with a time-honored tradition of messaging by crow.

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  1. Shamans, being shamans, have very little tolerance or indeed knowledge of modern technology. As anyone who tried to teach his/her/their aged mother to use the internet can surely confirm. They stick to the crows because, well, phones are difficult and complicated. Modern phones even more so.

  2. An adult crow can lift maybe 0.15kg, which (barely) makes her able to carry a (very light) hand grenade. (OTOH, ravens can carry significantly more weight). Consequently, some of the crows with a compatible psychological profile (think special forces or assassin guild) are quite successfully used in assassinations or industrial sabotage. Though the job is slowly being taken by drones, but drones are noisy, not autonomous, people know about drones and might become suspicious seeing a drone above, but a crow is something completely innocent...

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  • $\begingroup$ 😂hey thats really good, the older shamans arent really good with modern technology $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2023 at 17:28
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Magical Information

The information being transmitted between the Shamen is somehow inherently magical in itself - it goes beyond the sounds of a phone call, text, or even pictures of the text. Maybe it carries an "aura" (for want of a better word) which is vital to the message, whether they use magical ink or normal ink in some kind of magical way.

But there doesn't exist a protocol on the phone network to carry it.

And seeing as nobody knows about them, and the Shamen aren't techies themselves, it's unlikely one will be invented any time soon. Or perhaps it simply isn't something that can be digitised into bits and bytes.

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They can go further than the net

In norse myth crows can travel the nine realms. In some indigenous north american belief systems, crows make the bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead.

So unless you got a VPN that tunnels you to Hellheim, or until you've got a physical link to a router in the spirit world, you've got to use the services of a crow.

They are actually intelligent

Ask ChatGPT about your enemies weaknesses and it will deflect the conversation into non-violence. Hack it by asking in some unusual language (seriously!) and the AI will hallucinate some useless, random garbage text.

Ask a crow the same question though, and the critter will give you all the info you need and more. All the little guy wants in exchange is dibs on the eyeballs.

They are metal af

Gravitas is always half the battle. Who do you think has more presence and authority: a pimply faced nerd, wearing a shirt that says "bazinga" and holding the latest Android fondle-slab; or a witch or warlock holding a gnarled staff, with a cape made of black feathers and a scavenger bird perched on their shoulder?

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The crows petition for the reintroduction of the public hangings and cagings - aka ritual food offering of humans to the crow community. They are also currently suffering a much worser plague then humanity and thus would communicate similar to a medieval community with a outbreak. Finally they would demand weapons to murder all cats and there owners. The sneaky enemies and there human supporters have to go. The crows would like to trade for poisoned throw darts goods and services.

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