A Little Happier: What a Set of 3D “Magic Eye” Postcards Taught Me About Myself

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I’m working on a book about the five senses, and as part of my investigations into my sense of sight, I dug out my old stack of “Magic Eye” postcards.

I bought this set sometime in the 1990s, when the 3-D Magic Eye autostereograms were a fad and on display everywhere.

An autostereogram shows an image with a horizontally repeating pattern that changes slightly with each repetition, and a hidden image pops out when viewed from eyes positioned at a certain angle. At first glance, my postcards appeared to show nothing more than patterned, blurred collections of dots. The trick was that when I unfocused my eyes in just the right way, and moved a card to the correct distance, I could suddenly see a three-dimensional image jump off the flat page.

Over the years, each time I picked up these cards again, it took me several minutes to regain the knack, and I always felt the same thrill of triumph when I finally saw the hidden image. I could feel my eyes doing their subtle work of focusing and perceiving in a way that I never noticed in ordinary life. Looking at these postcards gave me more appreciation for the complexity of my sense of sight.

And as I put the cards away, I realized that I’d held onto this set for decades. Every once in a while, in a bout of clutter-clearing, I’d consider finally getting rid of it—after all, I never sent one of the postcards. But my test for keeping a possession is “Do I need it? Do I use it? Do I love it?” and I did love these postcards. Every few years, I’d discover them in the back of the drawer, and I’d pull them out and have the fun, yet again, of seeing the bridge, the unicorn, and the archway pop out from the blurred background.

Seeing this familiar set of postcards over the years has made me happy—and it has also contributed to my sense of myself, my own continuous identity.

Years ago, when I made the impulse-purchase of those postcards on sale, I didn’t expect that they’d stay with me for the rest of my life. But it’s starting to look that way.

Just because something isn’t often used doesn’t mean that it's useless.

If you want to try looking at "Magic Eye" images, you can find some images here and here.

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