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What if my world had instant communication via some magical means, such as a scrying device that allows two wizards on the opposite side of the world to hold a conversation? The technology level is pretty much standard medieval Europe right as the printing press is being invented and the world is just starting down the path towards an industrial revolution.

How would instant communication affect such a low-tech world? I'm saying that some form of magical communication has been around for a while, but it's been developing over time.

Edited to provide more specifics - In my scenario, I'm thinking that only wizards, of whom there are a limited number, would be able to communicate this way. A fairly large percentage of the population has magic, but most people have very little - just enough to do a few of the simplest charms. Being a wizard is akin to being a professional - say that there's about as many wizards in the world as ours has lawyers.

Some artifact could be used, but I think that some magical input from the person using it would still be required.

The population is very spread out with many isolated rural areas.

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  • $\begingroup$ How many wizards are there per person? How dense is the overall population? Can the magical communication be put into artifacts? Is the magical communication just being invented, or has it been around since earlier developmental levels? $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Nov 13 '14 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Printing press was more of a Renaissance technology, the increase in the availability of the printed word (and thus education) was a large driver of the middle ages ending. $\endgroup$ – James Nov 13 '14 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Increased communication allows the spread of news and control. Empires can be bigger, discoveries are shared faster and more completely, trade is massively enhanced. Even only a few long distance stations could work for all, like telegrams used to work. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 14 '14 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ So basically, what happens if telegram existed but do not become widespread. Note that you need a lot of training to understand Morse code to use telegram efficiently, this means not every other jack can simply use the machine. Also, a magigram operator is a good position to act as a spy and saboteur. Any battalions in a war will likely always have someone that can use magigram. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Nov 14 '14 at 4:09
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    $\begingroup$ Magic is os nothing more than knowledge wich we don't have. $\endgroup$ – Sempie Nov 14 '14 at 10:50
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This is basically the same as asking what would happen if wizards had cell-phones, or wireless telegraphs. You can look at real-world reactions to those, and extrapolate back in time.

Twelfth's answer covers the diplomatic and militaristic angles, which was one of my first thoughts as well. This would allow kingdoms to more easily span larger areas. It could also be used by spies, for espionage. Which raises an interesting question: If two wizards are communicating, how secure is that communication? Could another wizard "hack into" the channel, and eavesdrop on them?

But here's some additional uses:

  1. News. Humans seems to be fascinated with distant events, and a network of wizards could set up a sort of news-wire for distributing notable world events -- weather patterns, wars, crimes, politics, religious matters, sporting events, etc... Of course, a more nefarious media might also put a "spin" on the news, to tell the narrative they want. News can also be used to facilitate:

  2. Trade. If you were a merchant, and you got word that there was a famine in a town three days to the north, you might consider making a trip up that way with a food surplus, secure in the knowledge that you'd have a good market. You might not have been planning to make that trip before, so you'd be willing to pay someone to update you on recent changes to nearby market conditions. As user3913060 points out, they may well choose to keep economic information to themselves, and profit from it more directly (rather than sell it to merchants). This may depend on the ethics of each individual wizard. Or there may be laws in place to prevent this kind of "inside trading" (but how could such a law be enforced?). At any rate, if there's no easy way to transport goods, the wizards may well develop a currency based on promissory notes rather than physical possession. Then they could broker trades of the ownership of one commodity on one side of the globe with that of another commodity on the other side of the world, without the goods physically exchanging hands, much like commodities traders today.

  3. Correspondence. Wizards could set up a sort of telegram post-service allowing individuals to send letters to loved ones (or business associates) who are located far away. This might encourage more long-distance traveling, and perhaps exploratory expeditions (if they can be funded). Imagine if Christopher Columbus could have instantly provided daily reports on his discovery of the New World back home.

  4. Cultural Diffusion. "It's a small world" as the saying goes. If you can receive messages from people anywhere in the world, even if its not done frequently, or on a personal basis, you're likely to have at least heard stories of the way other people around the world act. This wouldn't be hearsay from some single adventurer's tale, but would be (relatively) factual information. Eventually, you'd probably become more accustomed to other cultural beliefs and behaviors, to where they didn't seem so strange. This could also be used to share what we would call "IP" today (intellectual property) -- music, art, literature, even theories and inventions, could all be shared much faster.

The limiting factor here is how common these wizards are, and how available they make their services (and for what price, and with what level of accuracy?).

And finally, these wizards would obviously share silly pictures of their cat familiars with each other.

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  • $\begingroup$ I ended up assuming that wizards were not common enough for these uses, but you have the expanded version. +1 $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 14 '14 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ I LOL'd at your comment about cat familiars, but it's actually quite insightful. It would be a world where most people, even the very wealthy, could communicate only at specific times and in limited ways... but a tiny subset of people would have all the communication they wanted and no need to restrict it to important things (assuming that communication doesn't cost wizards much except for their time). This would create a very odd, wizard-specific culture. $\endgroup$ – octern Nov 14 '14 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ The other thing that happens is that wizards could choose to become power brokers, especially if the communication was telepathic rather than something where others present could listen in. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Nov 14 '14 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ They could wield influence, but barring anything else they could still be stuck with a dagger if the value of the information is less than the cost of this power brokering. So depending on how well this cartel works, wizards could be flunkies with little sway to important ministers. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 14 '14 at 22:06
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I'd imagine the only effect this would have is on a high level...well, I guess it depends on how many 'lawyers' are in this world ;) Day to day life is likely unaffected for the many, however kingdoms (or nations or whatever your setup is) would be able to conduct diplomatic actions and coordinate large scale actions much more readily.

Medieval without magic communication - emissaries was the main method that allied and enemy nations communicated with each other. The travel wasn't quick...although a single person could travel a pretty good distance in a shorter amount of time using trade routes and the sort. 2-3 weeks to get a message to another nation and another 2-3 weeks to get a response was not uncommon. Incidentally, this was often a role that Princesses would take, though definitely not limited. Armies (generals) were often given their orders and not receive new ones for several weeks (so changing directions like recalling your army or responding to an ever changing diplomatic world was not a simple thing).

Medieval with magic communication - the 2 - 3 week communication time is reduced to near instant. This will allow for quicker negotiations (potentially the ability to address a political blunder before it incites a war?) between two kingdoms. I'd suspect far closer ties between the rulers of different nations would develop...I would venture to say intrigue and political 'backstabbing' could happen much quicker and much more readily (late Byzantine empire if you want to see a real life example of how far this intrigue could develop). Military coordination between two nations could be far greater and rulers would have far greater control over their armies movements. The element of surprise may be far less if the ability to relay scouting information was nearly instantaneous. Technological advances and idea's could be shared in a much quicker time frame as well and you may see a more homogeneous tech level in the world

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They could get filthy rich, as an appetizer. By sharing current prices in different places, they could become the best arbitrageurs around -- literal wizards of finance -- for example buying gold where it's cheapest, selling it where it's more expensive, and being able to do this consistently because they'd have the fastest information. The world's price differentials would be their magical, bottomless wallet. From there, assuming no mortal infighting, they could go on to rule the world.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well info is fast, but actual transfers are as slow as ever. So they could react twice as fast as normal people could, but only that much faster. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 14 '14 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ What happens when they invent international banking? Then they could take action at a distance. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Feb 21 '15 at 12:22

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