Friday, October 12, 2007

Free Magic Secrets

No, this isn't a post offering free magic secrets. Instead it's a look at how the secrets of magic are so readily available and what impact that's having, especially on beginning magicians. This was inspired by Steve Pellegrino's comment about having to earn information in yesterday's post.

It would seem that if being a good magician is all about one’s ability to access secrets, today’s magicians should be the best ever. Never before has so much information about magic been so readily available to so many. Not only are magic’s secrets easy to access, they’re being divulged more and more often at zero cost. There are sites openly and unashamedly devoted to the exposure and trading of magic secrets; YouTube hosts scores of magic tutorials on everything from basic sleights to tricks that are currently being sold. One need do little more than press a few keys to have more magic secrets than could be mastered in a lifetime delivered straight to his desktop at no cost.

Is this free access to magic secrets producing great magicians? It doesn’t seem to be. Too many of today’s young magicians demonstrate fundamental gaps in their understanding and execution of magic. It’s not unusual to see someone who can do a series of flashy cuts and color changes that flubs a double lift. Few seem interested in acquiring the basics; instead they’re forever hunting out the secret of the latest cool thing.

In a sense being a beginning magician on the Internet is like being a kid set loose in a candy store – free to sample whatever you want. It’s almost impossible to settle down and devote yourself to a single trick and master it because something new and enticing is always there to tempt you. You don’t yet possess the discipline or understanding to refrain from trying a little bit of everything. You don’t realize that by taking a little bit of everything you’re ironically going to end up with a lot of nothing.

But it’s more than that, isn’t it? I think it really comes down to value. Have you ever had the experience of winning or finding money? No matter the amount, you find that money won or found just doesn’t seem the same as money you’ve earned. It’s easily squandered and quickly gone.

The same is true of magic secrets. What value do you put on something you’re able to acquire for free? It’s likely you take a superficial look at it, overlooking completely its real worth, and reject it for something new. Getting the secrets for free tends to rob us of our ability to appreciate them for what they are.

We value something according to what we’ve invested in it, both monetarily and in terms of effort, and its overall scarcity. Many of us started practicing magic when secrets were at a premium and we coveted the few secrets we had. More we worked to acquire the knowledge; we weren’t complaining that Erdnase was too hard to understand – we’d dutifully follow the instructions and work to decipher the true intent. And when we found success we also gained something of value, something we would forever keep.

I don’t want to come off like some old guy bitching about how things were better in the old days, but in this instance maybe they were. Many of us mastered the basics of magic not because we were intrinsically better students than the kids today but because that’s all we had! You practiced what you had access to and in so doing gained an appreciation for why it was important. If there’d been this unimaginable thing called the Internet we’d probably have wasted our time hunting around for more and more secrets the way so many do today.

The genie is out of the bottle and there’s no going back. I guess the best we can do is point those just starting in magic in the right direction and hope they’ll listen. Many probably won’t. It isn’t an easy thing to ignore all those interesting secrets and concentrate on mastering a double lift or control. Who knows, maybe in a weird form of Darwinism those who survive the onslaught of secrets will be those most capable of carrying magic on into this new century. See you next time.

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