I'm just fucking with you. I don't really want to write about the purpose of magic in the early 21st century, I just want to ramble a little. And I thought it would be funny if a post with that title followed a post on a hypothetical app that you fart into. You see what I'm going for, yes? I want you to come here every day and not know if this is going to be the smartest or dumbest thing you'll read all day.
This is the locus of pure possibility, he thought, his neck prickling. What a man can be the next minute bears no relation to what he is or what he was the minute before. (Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman)
I'm reading a book called, Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected. I'm not far enough into it to tell if it's any good or not, but I do think it is a book you'll find interesting at the very least. Early in the book they talk about the concept of surprise in this way:
When something unexpected or misexpected happens... [a] brain wave grips your attention, stops everything else you’re doing, and plugs you into the moment. If you have a cell phone, computer, TV, and sprawling to-do list, you probably already see the power of this effect. Our attention is so splintered that having a single focus is almost impossible. Unless we’re surprised. Surprise unifies our attention and gives us a deep experience right here in the present.
That last line may not encapsulate the purpose of magic in the 21st century, but I think it definitely suggests one of the benefits of magic. It's similar to Paul Harris' idea of magic bringing the spectator to a child-like state of astonishment. But it highlights that moment without infantilizing the spectator in the process. And as a concept, it's one I'd be much more inclined to discuss with someone as being an actual benefit of magic. To say, "Magic brings you back to a childhood state of astonishment," is too easily turned into this in a spectator's mind: "Magic will make your feel dumb. You know, like a dumbass baby who doesn't understand shit. Here, let me take you back to the time when you were the dumbest and most vulnerable as my gift to you." And on top of that, is it even true? Are babies constantly in amazement? If so they seem pretty chill about it for the most part. So I would have a hard time saying that to someone.
On the other hand, I could see myself saying to someone, "When you watch tv, or listen to music, or even go to a play or the ballet, you can enjoy yourself and yet your mind might not be fully there. Even with more intense situations, if you're at a funeral or having sex you can split your attention. This is especially true if you're having sex at a funeral. But when you see good magic there will be a point, however brief, where everything else falls away and you are 100% here in the moment and the only things that exist are you and I and this experience."
It is much better to characterize the moment of astonishment as one of connection and presence rather than putting the emphasis on their instant of ignorance.
But while I could see myself saying what I wrote above to a spectator, I doubt I ever would. The truth is, your goal should be to do work that is so fun or interesting that you don't have to justify it with some grand rationale. If you sing and play guitar and when you're done with a song someone says, "Why are you doing that?" that's a bad sign. Plus it's much more powerful to a person to let them identify the nature of the experience, rather than to try and force it on them. Just give them the moment.
For me, giving people those surprising, mysterious, fun, unusual moments to interpret and assign their own meaning to is the purpose of magic in the early 21st century. See? I dipsy-doodled my way back around to a topic I didn't really intend to discuss.
I should say that despite what might come off as a dismissal of Paul Harris' groundbreaking philosophy, I still think he's a genius and is right about most everything. Oh, except he wrote that move "Nice Girls Don't Explode," and frankly slut-shaming squirters in the early 21st century is just NOT okay. Nice girls DO explode, Mr. Harris. And if you want to debate that, take it up with my duvet cover.