We loved Adam Green’s recent New Yorker profile of famed pickpocket Apollo Robbins (whose website is I Steal Stuff), and all it has to say about what we think we’re seeing at any given time, and how easy it is for certain savvy people to decode it.  In this mesmerizing video, Robbin reveals his favorite sleight-of-hand — watch your wallet! cellphone! watch!— and tells us exactly how they work. And even knowing how they work, the tricks remain astonishing for their effortless precision. He’s made a study of how we see so he can manipulate our awareness.

Robbins’ entree into his unique profession was in part due to disabilities he had as a child:

My half brothers were involved with crime. But I was too young to participate. I also had certain disabilities that prevented me [from joining in]: like braces on my legs. When I became a teen, I ran into a friend at a magic shop who took me under his wing. I started reading up on magical theory and immediately blended that with what my brothers had shown me.

Being friends with several magicians, we know that acute precision and ability to suss-the-moment takes thousands of hours honing skills, practicing in front of a mirror, observing behavior, making mistakes, practicing and practicing and practicing some more to gain mastery. THAT’s what you’re really seeing in this video.

Right after we read the New Yorker piece, which elevates pickpocket to rigorous neuroscientist and artist, we heard David Sedaris on NPR’s This American Life, telling the story of a subway ride he took in Paris. Two American tourists mistook him for a Frenchman and eventually a pickpocket. He starts off hating their cliched stereotyping him as a “smelly, thieving frog”, but eventually comes to enjoy being seen as a…ROGUE. Listen here when you need a laugh. It’s from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Related posts: unexpected shift of view (look around!)
houdini’s mantra: “my brain is the key that sets me free”
xthe role of magic in the creative process
xwhat happens if you throw with your other hand?
xmental health break: riding teahupo’o waves in slo-mo

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6 replies on “what a pickpocket tells us about attention, focus, practice

  1. I heard that David Sedaris piece and was laughing out loud…

  2. The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
    R. D. Laing

  3. Couldn’t be more on point. Thank you!!!

  4. Ronald Dahl’s story, The Hitchhiker, is a must read for anyone with an interest in pickpockets. Brilliant.

  5. i’m going to see apollo robbins at the ruben next month as a part of a neuro lecture series. so excited.

  6. You lucky dog! They’re sold out!

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