In a world where light can be created by a single spell, there would be no need to invent a light bulb. If magic can heal all injuries and ailments, advancements in medicine would be unnecessary? Even weapons of war would need no technological boosts if they can be augmented by people slinging spells.

It seems that with a magical counterpart to any level of technology, there is no need for technology to grow past a rudimentary level unless it were to do so in an effort to divest a civilization of its dependence on magic. But why would a dependence on magic be less desirable than a dependence on technology? Could a world in which magic is the norm ever advance technologically?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For sociological questions, the devil is in the details. What is this system of magic like? Can every peasant cast a spell, or do you have to study for 30 years to cast a simple cantrip? Is there anything magic can't do? Can it be combined with technology? We need far more detail to answer this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think we need to know the limitations of magic in this world. Maybe describe a middle class magic user. How easy is it to learn? Does it have to be memorized? Do you only have so much magic you can use in a day? Technology always enhances the pleasure of those who create it, so societies are trying to extend the possibilities they already have. What are those possibilities? $\endgroup$
    – smurtagh
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. The scientific method works on anything. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 16:20

3 Answers 3


It's all about cost.

If turning on a light spell is as easy as flipping a light switch, then why would anyone want a light bulb?

If you can talk across the world with a spell, why would you ever need a telephone.

There might still be some things that would be solved with technology, such as using a water wheel to mill grain, and that could potentially lead to other discoveries and advancements.

It's all about the rules that you put in place. If magic is unlimited and free, then no one will ever see the need for anything else. Instead all of the research will be put into developing, discovering, and refining new and better spells.

Magic is made more interesting by defining what it can't do, rather than what it can. Once you know it's limitations for yourself, then you can see where technology would grow to fill the niches.


It really depends on the rules behind your magic.

E.g. taking the lightbulb example:

A lightbulb is switched on and off by a switch. This switch, in our world, does close a connection between the bulb and a source of electricity. It does so instantly at no cost to the switcher (person that switches a switch) other than having to switch a switch.

Casting a light-spell could take anywhere between instantaneous up to a few minutes or even longer.

If casting a light-spell takes longer than switching a switch, it would be beneficial to develop a technique/technology that allows getting light faster and at less effort/expense.

So, instead of every person/mage casting a light-spell whenever they need light. They might once-a-day (or week, or month, or year, or lifetime) cast another, more complex spell, that stores electrical power in a battery-like device.
Then they can switch the switch to make use of that power and save time/effort thus justifying this new technology.

This can really be applied to anything you can do with the magic in your world:

  1. Define what your magic does
  2. Define the cost in time/effort/power/whatever
  3. See if any given technology does it cheaper

If the answer to the third step is yes, then it is likely that such technology would be developed in time.


This answer is yes, it is possible for a society in which "magic is the norm" to advance in technology. For the details, here is a formula.

For each person in the world you describe:

Capability of Magic + Capability of creatures without magic + Technology gap = All Capabilities the individual believes are needed to self-actualize

You can use this equation so answer any question about magic and tech relationships in your world. What can they do with magic? What can they do without? Would they use technology to increase their abilities to attain their sense of ideal?

Other factors:

people are lazy - they might prefer a computer to perform an action if they can't put magic on auto-pilot

people are weird - they might prefer to manually bury the deceased another or read paper books or write with a quill

Hope that helps.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .