It’s A Kind Of Magic

Published On February 8, 2012 | By mbalogh | Blog

There’s no big secret to magic outside of the magician’s ability to understand how a person thinks.  As magicians they’ve taught themselves to push the limits of our faith in our ability to comprehend and judge the world around us.  Sometimes a new technology will hit the market which is “before its time” and effectively stump us in the same way a good magic trick will.  The Sega Activator and Apple MessagePad are just two examples of this.  Likewise AR, has been dismissed by many as a flop, but as innovative technologists we have to think different.  We have to figure out the trick.

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow the authors talk about perception, thought, and the process by which decisions are made.  One of the two core ideas is a fast brain which takes short cuts to get you a quick answer.  This is the brain we rely on until we slow down and give the second brain a chance.  It does this with a myriad of tricks, one of them being association with what you know.  When you are confronted by a decision your mind quickly indexes, aggregates, and computates a result based on the whole of your experiences.  If I ask you to estimate the divorce rate in the United States your first intuition is think about how many divorced people you know, as if that would have anything to do with the divorce rate in the entire United States.  This is just a small part to what they call framing a problem.

Magicians understand and exploit this.  Want to see Penn & Teller make a submarine disappear while underwater and surrounded by people and cameras? Check out this video.  Now watch the video all the way to the end and see how they did it.  Now ask yourself why you were fooled.  It’s because you have no reference for something that extreme and insane.  You start by asking yourself how you would do it and stop about a hundred levels shy of why they actually pulled off.

As innovative technologists we have to do the same thing with new medias.  We have to think differently.  We have to go a hundred levels beyond what any sane person would do.  Technologies like AR and Kinect are two examples of this.  Until now there’s been very few good examples of either.  In the last few weeks I’ve loved the Mission Impossible iPhone app and am elated with the Hasbro Lazer Tag announcement.  Kinect, with its slow uptake, is also beginning to come into its own with whole home integration with voice and movement control.  Yeah, they went there.

The easy decision is to dismiss the technology as a flop — it’s what our quick brain would have us do.  The tough choice is to understand a new way to think.  Like Penn and Teller making that submarine disappear, it’s a kind of magic.

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