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Magic is a terrific hobby, profession, and field of study, largely because it is intellectually gratifying on many levels. The serious student of magic learns not just how to fool people, but larger lessons about how the mind and perception work. Magic teaches psychology and a deeper understanding of how we process information. For this reason, in recent years, researchers have gone to magicians as a resource for their keen insights into perception and consciousness. In fact, my favotie college professor, Daniel Dennett, describes consciousness itself as a magic trick, an illusion of sorts that our minds create to engage and form a relationship with objective realities; it’s a fabulous analogy and parallel that he expounds upon in his writings and
TED talks If you’ve never heard or seen him speak, you’re in for a treat–he’s a brilliant man.

The field of magic is constantly changing, and for good reason. Once a trick’s method is exposed and becomes known to the public, it no longer works, so new innovations are constantly required. And as technology changes, so also do the possibilities for magic. For instance, 200 years ago, a magic trick could have been something like instantly squaring any number between 1-1000. Today, we have calculators that do this instantly, and while it’s impressive, it falls decidedly short of miraculous. Similarly, 200 years ago, a magic trick could be getting from Europe to the United States in under 10 hours. Today, it’s called an airplane.

The same thing is true today, and always, which is the reason for Clarke’s III Law:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

So as life evolves and technology advances, so does magic, which keeps things ever changing, interesting, and fresh. There will always be magic, because magic itself evolves. It evolves by necessity, with the times, and using the latest technological innovations and secrets.

I was 15 when my friend Stephen Hobbs first published a move and routine of mine in his magic ephemera, Labyrinth. In his kind and flattering introductory words, he remarked insightfully that for some time, he had anticipated the fallout from the explosion of new magic media and mediums. He was alluding to the fact that when the only way to learn was from books, the information was difficult to create, disseminate, and engage, and thus magicians were truly the rare few who had the focus and drive to seek out and study the information. By the time I was starting out in the early 90′s, there were VHS tapes on magic that taught incredible routines along with fabulous performances. Those tapes cost $75 each, and had about five routines per tape. I was only able to get one or two tapes a year as gifts, mostly from my grandmother, because of their price. Books, too, were expensive, and remain so even now.

However, today, the technological landscape has changed dramatically. Not only do we have video tutorials (not VHS, of course), but the cost and time to create them has decreased from astronomical to nearly nothing. Same goes for its distribution. We all have smartphones that take video, and today’s SLR’s are affordable and take fabulous high definition footage. The effects on magic have been commensurate with the changes in this technology–that is to say, a complete and total paradigm shift, comprised of rapidly spreading ideas, presentations, and techniques. The result of all this information sharing–profound innovation.

For instance, in my teens, I thought I had mastered almost all card flourishes extant: the fan, the pressure fan, the ribbon spread, the Le Paul spread, productions, split fans, and so many more. Since that time, though, the number of flourishes has EXPLODED, to the point where card flourishing is now its own field called Cardistry or XCM (Extreme Card Manipulations). The students and practitioners of this type of flourishing study each others’ moves, riff of them, and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. This video speaks for itself:

“The Magic Life” chronicles the journey of three magician hopefuls: a 17-year-old from Beijing who travels to the U.S. to attend magic school, a 25-year-old trying to make rent by performing on Hollywood Blvd for tips, and a 32-year-old New York University MBA graduate who moves to Los Angeles to perform at the world famous Magic Castle. The film depicts the challenges of following an unconventional career path. Forget about parents, family, or friends who may not understand or support your choices – there’s almost an invisible societal pressure in terms of what types of jobs are acceptable. “The Magic Life” is about those who are willing to risk everything to take the road not normally taken. Sometimes the risk pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

Here’s a recent reel doing some card flourishes around Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Performing Estimation Aces during performance of ADD-LIGHTFUL in NYC, 2008

Many years ago, “The Professor”, Dai Vernon, one of magic’s greatest legends and teachers, was asked by a student to help him with his magic. The student wanted to know the really big secret(s) that made The Professor so skilled with his technique and performances. Vernon recounted the story, and told that what his students wanted to hear were things like “Always use hand lotion before handling a deck of cards” or “only practice magic before bed” or “only use bicycle cards” or some other big secret.

The truth, he went on, is that there is no big secret, but rather a collection of thousands of little secrets that taken together create the perfect illusion, like a work of pointillist art.

All these details come over time with the right systems and habits in place. When I have cards and coins laying out on my desk, I practice.  When my guitar is out on a stand, I play.  When my exercise ball is out in the open, I exercise.  Conversely, when the cards are in a drawer, the guitar is in a case, or the exercise ball is in the closet, I do nothing. Positive change really is not about will power; it’s about habits and systems.  We don’t need will power or to change our minds–because the mind is actually physical. Changing our physical habits and routines makes the change for us and our minds follow suit automatically. Honesty, attention to detail, self reflection and awareness are key components to improving at anything by allowing us to implement the necessary systems.

To that point, for all of us hoping to make improvements in our lives in 2014, this is a great video that was recently forwarded to me. Make improvement easy on yourself by setting up routines, habits, and environments that foster the change you’re trying to make.

Good luck to you, and have a magical 2014!