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My story is set in present day. Magical beings co-exist among humans, but I don't know how to achieve that without having said beings live in secret or hide their abilities.

I want magic to not be an overly domineering aspect of my world. Mischievous teenagers dabble in it sometimes (because they're not very bright). And the majority of adults pay it little to no attention because it is, for whatever reason, not applicable/useful to society.

I want people to be able to see magic and not be rattled by it or thrown into a panic.

How can I make magic useful, but useless at the same time?
Is it possible to achieve a happy medium, or is this setting too contradicting?

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closed as too broad by Hohmannfan, Aify, fi12, Monty Wild, bowlturner Feb 12 '16 at 3:45

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you give us more information about your world? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Feb 11 '16 at 23:16
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In addition to boring and hard - which are good ways of course - you could also make it costly. Imagine that to pull a magic trick you need to use a really small, but genuine (as in "true", not "natural") diamond. And it'll turn to graphite in the process. Sure, it's worth it to get queen of the homecoming ball naked! But certainly won't be used often.

As JRaymond pointed out, if the amount of magic that can be focused through it exponentially proportional to the size of the diamond, then teenagers could perform innocent pranks with diamond dust saw blades, and big diamonds would get really, really rare and expensive. And that's pretty much the point.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think teenagers are going to have a hard time getting a diamond. Especially if they had a legitimate reason for being valuable (unlike in our world). $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse Feb 11 '16 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Byte56 oh come on, I can get saw blade covered with diamond dust for $50. Sure, making it useless would angry someone's dad, but how hard is it to get one, really? I bet most teenagers could do it, if seeing most beautiful girl in the school naked would be the prize. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 11 '16 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot Make the amount of magic that can be focused through it exponentially proportional to the size of the diamond and good ones will become very rare very quick - teenagers might be able to cause some mischief with diamond grit but not much else $\endgroup$ – JRaymond Feb 11 '16 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot You meant to say good ways. Also, I think it might make more sense if the diamond wasn't used up. I mean, seriously, who's going to waste a diamond for trivial things? They're expensive! $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Feb 11 '16 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon That was the point of the question - to make a magic work, but in a way people would not going to use. Your comment suggests my answer worked as planned and fits the OP's need as I understand it. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 11 '16 at 23:58
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The first thing that comes to mind, for me, is to make it boring. If doing anything useful takes loads of boring study (boring for people not interested in the theory, anyways) anyone who isn't an academic will ignore it.
Highschool kids will find a way to turn cloths transparent, and make the teachers sneeze, or something; but as soon as they figure out that anything more will require tons of repetition and study, they will lose interest. (just like most math and science now)

Heck a lot of people think math and science ARE magic, or at least arcane. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, if more people were interested in the things that math and science allow them to do, the world would be a better place. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse Feb 11 '16 at 23:36
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The effort required to complete a task using magic, is considerably more effort than completing the task without magic. This would make it known, but not useful. It would simply be one more way to complete a task, but not close to the optimal way.

People would be sure to try it at some point in their lives, but it simply wouldn't be worth using it in their day-to-day lives.

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  • $\begingroup$ That would've been my other answer. :) boring or hard is the best way for people to lose interest. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Feb 11 '16 at 23:33
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How can I make magic useful, but useless at the same time?

Make it random and not (easily) reproducible.

Unicorns exist. They're magical. And they might happen once in every 1 billion horse births. Or never. That's random magic for you.

Black cats really do give you bad luck. But when you lose your job next week, was it because of the black cat, or because your poor performance review last quarter? Do you even believe in magic? It's been 20 years since that unicorn in India cured your cancer. Maybe you made the memory up?

EDIT:

I just wanted to elaborate why this makes it useful and useless.

It's useful because it completely works.

It's useless because it's entirely unreliable, unpredictable, and/or non-measurable. It's like the opposite of science and technology, and it's not totally useless.

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The answers here are great. So far we have boring, hard, and expensive. I can think of a couple more ways.

Make it dangerous or painful (or both). If using magic risked or caused self-injury or even death, few would want to attempt it. In fact many may fear for those that did. If magic was deemed useful enough it may become a regulated profession, like being a doctor, a lawyer, or other certified professions like an underwater welder. If it wasn't considered useful or if the cost of its usefulness was too high it may simply be outlawed (though I am sure some would practice it underground). This could mix will with it also being boring, that is with a lot of boring practice it could become less painful/dangerous.

Teens may dabble in the less risky forms (because they tend to make less informed decisions), but if it was painful (even lightly so), or sustained injury occurred often enough, it would get old really quick. Also even if it wasn't illegal most parents would want put a stop to it.

The interesting nuance would be that different governments/jurisdictions would have differing opinions on how to regulate it.

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Magic is non-progressive

Magic is a scholastic pursuit where all the answers are in dusty old tomes and it is impossible to design a new technique. Eventually regular technology surpasses magic and it becomes as popular and useful as lace tatting and rock-knapping. Anything a Wizard could do can be done by an app or another device. Magic becomes a nerdy hobby.

Magic is based on unsharable mathematics

To cast a fireball one has to know the amount the house should charge to play a game in which a coin is flipped until it comes up heads and pays out $2^n$ when is the number of coin flips. The problem must be solved in a mental language without paper or verbalization.

To levitate. One must use that same language to prove that in a relation on the positive integers where every even number relates to its half and odd number relate to their triple plus one and their triple plus three, every number is reachable by one and can reach one.

You know your proof is correct when the magic happens. Since it is unsharable every wizard has to reinvent the wheel at every step. This makes it very hard to have any "ratcheting". It might be easy to turn a sows ear into a silk purse [ prove that all square roots of non-square numbers are irrational] but to resurrect the dead, you have to prove that $A^x=b^x+c^x$ is never true for any three positive integers when x > 2.

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