New Tricks: Magicians Work to Keep Illusions Alive in the Age of Google | Dallas Observer
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How Can Magic Still Work in This Digital, Touchscreen, Pixelated Age?

The last of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke's three laws states, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That doesn't mean magic can't exist in our digital realm of interactive technology and readily accessible information, local magician Zak Mirz says. "I don't think technology ruins magic with any stretch...
Dallas magician "Confetti Eddie" Ruiz performs a mentalism trick with a virtual audience.
Dallas magician "Confetti Eddie" Ruiz performs a mentalism trick with a virtual audience. Screenshot by Confetti Eddie
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The last of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke's three laws states, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

That doesn't mean magic can't exist in our digital realm of interactive technology and readily accessible information, local magician Zak Mirz says.

"I don't think technology ruins magic with any stretch of the imagination," Mirz says. "I saw Hamilton yesterday with my wife, and the moment where Hamilton got shot, I don't think anyone was thinking it was a fake gun. They were lost in the moment."

Online magic shows saw a huge increase over the course of the pandemic, as it wasn't safe for audiences to stare in wonder at a floating card. So magicians have learned not just to adapt to a new setting but also to a new audience that can figure out how most basic illusions are done simply by typing a few words into their phone and searching for the right book, website or online forum.

"There's a certain credibility that's lost as soon as you're not in the room with the magician because you know there's no camera trick if you're in person," says Trigg Watson, a magician from Dallas who now lives in Los Angeles. "As you're watching it on a screen, people get more skeptical. So, we magicians have to find ways to boost our credibility."

Magicians like "Confetti Eddie" Ruiz have learned ways to adapt not just to present tricks in a digital space but using its interactive principles to develop new techniques for tricks starting with ordinary items. Cigarettes and coins aren't in people's pockets as much anymore, so Ruiz says he's come up with things he can do with phones and iPads.

"There's one effect where I never touch anything and using two spectators cell phones, I combine their phone numbers and bring in a third person who adds up the numbers, and when I call that number, it matches with a mystery item on the stage," Ruiz says. "It's a parlor trick that's worked in the past, but it's only been done with today's technology."

Watson, who's appeared on The CW's Masters of Illusion and Penn & Teller: Fool Us, incorporates technology into most of his illusions whether it's on a stage or behind a screen during a Zoom show. Take, for instance, the stereotypical magician's trick of pulling a rabbit out of a top hat. That trick doesn't work anymore because it's been done so much and top hats are only a thing for steampunk costume parties and goth hipsters.

He's created a similar trick but with something more modern than outdated formal wear.

"What I saw was an opportunity when I saw the iPad with its hinging cover is the same shape and uses the same principles of this bunny production trick," Watson says. "It's sort of about taking old things and making them organic in the world we live in."
Mirz, who also recently appeared on Penn and Teller: Fool Us and fooled the magic duo with a card illusion, says his goal is to come up with new techniques so the solution can't be something that anyone can just Google.

"A good magician will start layering as well," Mirz says. "Maybe this is a bad example, but if you vanish a coin, someone's going to Google how do you vanish a coin and you can see 20 million results on YouTube. But if you say this coin is going to vanish and it's going to time travel and end up a certain location in the world, it's still a vanish, but you're getting people away from the simple question because you're adding layers of more complexity to your presentation."

Many new tricks incorporate classic principles and techniques of magic, but Watson says the real trick is getting people to stay interactive with the performer even if there's a distance between them. This will only get more challenging as emerging technology like virtual and augmented reality become more accessible with devices like Facebook's Oculus Quest headset and the Metaverse space.

"The big questions and fears I have as a magician is if we're living more in a world that is digitally constructed, how do I fit into that?" Watson says. "In a fully digital environment, I don't think I can put a Bitcoin in my digital hand and make it disappear because people will say it's just a pixel. I try to lean into those fears and say it feels like it's going to be difficult but let's play with it and have fun with it."

Maybe one of the first steps to creating new illusion is by using technology to provide its own cover for the magician performing the trick, Ruiz says.

"Magicians are always trying to conceal their methods so if there's a new thing that hides what we're doing, that's perfect," Ruiz says. "The technology really becomes basically the misdirection. That's all it really is."

Ultimately, the goal of any magician shouldn't just be to come up with a trick that can't be solved.

"With magic, if you do it well, people should be lost in the moment," Mirz says. "People shouldn't be thinking about how it's done." 
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