Apollo Robbins: Learning By Stealing



Javier Pelaez, via Flickr

Would you know if a thief was taking money from your pocket? Ryan Geertsma and Liz Waid look at skilled thief Apollo Robbins.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It is a dry, hot day. A man stands in the middle of “The Strip.” He is in the city of Las Vegas, in the United States. “The Strip” is a long, wide street. It is filled with famous hotels, signs and lights. The man stands in front of one of these hotels. He is wearing a simple coat and a nice hat.

Voice 2

The man walks toward a small group of people. He asks if he can demonstrate something for them. A young woman agrees. Someone records the event. The short video shows the man and woman talking. The man walks around the young woman. As he walks, they talk about what she keeps in her bag. They talk about what kind of telephone she has. Suddenly, the man stops walking. He reaches into his coat. He pulls out the woman’s telephone, her official identification, and even the eye glasses that were on her face. She is shocked. She did not even notice they were missing!

Voice 1 

This man’s name is Apollo Robbins. He is a pickpocket. Pickpockets steal things from people on the street. But Robbins is not a normal pickpocket. He is an entertainer. Hundreds of people enjoy watching Robbins perform in shows. Today’s Spotlight is on Apollo Robbins and what his pickpocketing skills can teach us about human behaviour.

Voice 2

Pickpockets exist all over the world. Their success depends on understanding how humans think. Pickpockets study human attention. They study what people notice in their environment.  And they study how people concentrate. Pickpockets recognize common patterns in people’s attention. They use these repeated behaviors for their advantage.

Voice 1 

For example, pickpockets must get very close to someone to steal from them. They must do this without being noticed. If a pickpocket walks straight toward a person, the person will notice them. But if a pickpocket moves toward a person from the side, the person may not notice. This lack of attention is called “change blindness.”

Voice 2 

Dan Simons is an expert in the study of human behaviour. He was on a television show called “Brain Games.” He explained that people are unable to notice surprisingly large changes from one second to the next. Here is how “change blindness” works.

Voice 3 

“When we look at our world, we see and understand a much smaller part of it than we think we do. And that is because attention is limited. We can really only concentrate on one thing at a time. And that thing is what we really notice a lot of detail about.”

Voice 1 

Pickpockets like Apollo Robbins depend on people’s “change blindness.” Because people can only concentrate on one thing, they will not notice other things – like a pickpocket stealing from them. Change blindness is just one of many patterns of human attention. However just knowing patterns of human attention is not enough. Pickpockets must also learn skills that take advantage of these repeated human behaviors.

Voice 2 

Robbins began learning these skills at a very young age. His two older brothers taught him basic pickpocketing tricks. And Robbins quickly became very good at stealing. When he was 15, he stole a small box of cigarettes to smoke. A worker at the store stopped him. But Robbins skilfully hid the box under his arm. Then, when the man looked away, Robbins slid the box into the worker’s shirt.

Voice 1 

Robbins was naturally good at pickpocketing. But it took him years to develop his ability to perform for other people. When he was 15, he started studying magic. Magicians perform tricks to fool and entertain people. Robbins became interested in magic. As he learned about magic, he was less interested in stealing. In 2007, he gave a speech about magic and human attention. In this speech he talked about these early years. He said,

Voice 4 

“I did not understand what I was doing at first. I wanted to learn the words to explain what I was doing. I learned that a lot of it is just taking advantage of human nature.”

Voice 1 

Robbins also learned by practicing. For many years, he performed his pickpocketing tricks over and over. Las Vegas has many magic shows, so it was a good place to practice and learn. In his first big performance, a woman accused him of stealing her jewels. It was a difficult situation! Robbins had not taken anything from her. But he learned how to react quickly and calmly. The woman found the jewels in her room and Robbins did not get into trouble.

Voice 2 

These first few performances led to a job at Caesar’s Magical Empire in Las Vegas. This was a famous place for magicians to perform. Robbins entertained people while they waited in line to watch a magic show. He used that time to practice his pickpocketing skills. He did many shows every day, and stole things from many people. They were just tricks - he always returned the things he took. He used his natural skills. But he also learned to play with people’s attention.

Voice 1 

After seven years, he began to perform in his own shows. He now performs at events and conferences around the United States. Many magicians agree that Robbins is the best at what he does. His tricks surprise even experienced magicians!

Voice 2

Robbins has also worked with scientists at Yale University in the United States. They are experts in how the human brain behaves. The scientists studied Robbins’ pickpocketing. Robbins would demonstrate different methods of movement in front of people. The scientists watched how the person’s eyes moved. They were interested in what people concentrated on. They discovered that different people reacted in the same ways.

Voice 1 

This work helps scientists understand attention and human nature. Knowing how human attention works is important. It can help officials create better driving laws and road signs. It can help companies create telephones that are easier to use. It can even help office workers to manage their time better. Most importantly, it can help people know how to protect themselves from pickpockets!

Voice 2 

For Robbins, understanding human attention makes him a better magician. He knows what works and what does not. While he performs his tricks, he can tell the crowd how he uses a person’s pattern of attention to his advantage. He told the New Yorker magazine,

Voice 4

“A lot of magic is designed to look very beautiful. But I am trying to affect people’s minds, emotions, and ideas. My goal is not to hurt them or trick them. I want to challenge their ideas of what is real.”

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The producer was Ryan Geertsma. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again and read it on the Internet, at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called: “Apollo Robbins: Learning By Stealing.”

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

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Question:

Have you ever seen a magician do magic tricks? Do you like magic?

Comments


Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on April 03, 2013

Hi all
The life teach us many things that motivate us to continue learning all days.
Thanks Spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
miboo
said on May 22, 2014

After I had read it, I wanted to see his perfomance. so I serched for him. And I found him in TED. He was amazing! of course I was suprised at his skill, But I was really suprised at his mind. He said “If you could control somebody’s attention, what would you do with it?” I think somebody’s fruit of talent and effort come from How does he use.

hellokitty's avatar
hellokitty
said on May 22, 2014

I saw his perfomance through movie. It was amzed!
Perhaps, he could use his knowledge and research results on bad thing. But he used that study about human. I was amazed by his behavior and his research results!

Avatar Spotlight
Phuonghai
said on May 22, 2014

Thank Spotlight so much.

This is the first time to listening this program,but I like it so much.
I think that if we listening everyday, our skill of listening English will be better.

Thanks again.