Technology in Magic

Ask a Magician, a series of blog posts answering your questions! - Issue IV

In this issue, Pete has asked an interesting question about technology. I'm going to answer it by talking about the past. Here's the question:

Is technology making some illusions possible that weren't possible in the past?

Absolutely it is. Magic rides on the wave of technology and the challenge for magicians is to find new technology that isn’t so mainstream and use that in a routine before it becomes common knowledge. That doesn't mean just doing magic with an iPad. That can be quirky and fun, but it's not really pushing the boundaries. It's just swapping the props from a sketchbook to an iPad.

A better example is a story about Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, who is commonly known as the father of modern stage magic. In the 1800's he themed a levitation around ether, which at the time was something that people had heard of but the general population didn't understand fully. At the time ether was starting to become known about, but the properties were not fully understood. He claimed that he could float his son, by giving him a sniff of the ether. Of course, that’s not how he really did the trick, but it was a great way to present the routine. He would also release ether into the theatre during the routine, which added an extra sensory element to the routine. How many magic tricks do you know that are based on smell?

This topic also reminds me of the story about L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat, a film by Louis Lumière, shot in 1896. When it was first played in theatres, it seemed so realistic that people ran to the back of the theatre thinking that the train was going to come crashing through the screen. Take a look below, and let me know what you think.

It's easy to dismiss the people in the past as being 'stupid' but they weren't. They just weren't familiar with the technology. As they became more familiar, the idea of a train moving towards them on a screen no longer induced fear. In the same way as technology becomes more commonplace, the magic that relies on it becomes less impressive.

An example from more recent time is magic using augmented reality, but unfortunately, I can't say much more than that because the technology is part of the secret. However, as I mentioned, when / if that becomes a part of everyday life, it won’t seem so magical. And so magic has to evolve with time. Who knows what will be possible in the future?

Finally, it's worth noting that sometimes magicians ask me if magic will die out with technology, and the answer I always give is no. Magic seems to go through times when it’s very popular or not so popular but as long as people enjoy live entertainment, magic will be a part of that. Fortunately, I can’t you see live entertainment dying out anytime soon, can you?


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