'You're Not Aware That My Finger Is in Your Pocket'

How concerning is it that I now want to be a (theatrical) pickpocket?

The New Yorker recently published a complement to Adam Green's excellent, very popular profile of pickpocket Apollo Robbins, in the form of a video in which Robbins demonstrates his art:

Even if you were so inspired by Green's profile that after reading it you went straight to YouTube and watched every video of Robbins you could find, which is a lot, and you cancelled some social plans that night so you could work on some of the moves; and you even thought about what could be a pseudonym that is as cool as Apollo, and how you should always wear black, too, because you need a trademark monochromatic style, etc. -- even still, there's new insight in this video. 

Green makes the point that Robbins is different from magicians in that he'll readily reveal his methodology. Knowing how he steals makes it only faintly less fascinating. Robbins, unlike street pickpockets, works alone -- Green explains that the typical street model is a team, whereas Robbins serves as his own steer, stall, shade, and duke man. He also tells us he's going to steal from us, and, finally, he shows us how he does it. 

Despite those concessions, he still beats us. Because it's about control; how disconcertingly adept Robbins is at manipulating human attention. He's been published in neuroscience journals describing as much. 

There's an element of psychopathy in being drawn to that amount of control over people. Apart from it being well written as a profile, and Robbins having an engaging story and "caviar personality," one of the reasons we love this is that it teaches us how to mislead and deceive people; how to systematically manipulate their attention to our own ends. 

The other half of us is left questioning our own judgment, despairing at how easily we can be tricked -- how predictable and inept we can be. Wanting to learn how deception works so we can defend ourselves, but knowing it's futile. We are all marionettes. Apollo Robbins is a foul conjurer and should be locked away and studied. 

Or no, don't think about any of that, it's just fun.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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