No one ever needs a live pet fish, three gallons of water, a fish tank, a heater, food, and various fish home accoutrements at a moment's notice. And yet, at 11am on a Tuesday, I texted a stranger and told them I needed all of this, and yes, I needed it today. Three hours and $200 later, my new friend arrived.
This all-too-simple delivery came courtesy of the vaguely mysterious new service Magic. There's no app. No web interface. You simply text the number your request, make a payment with Swipe, and Magic handles the rest. Literally. There is nothing separating you from your most fleeting, absurd flights of fancy. For example, there is no account sign-up process during which to think to yourself Wait, really? Nary a moment to reconsider your absurd demands. It is equal parts abhorrent and brilliant. And it works like a goddamn dream.
Supposedly, you can ask Magic for anything that doesn't violate the laws of the American justice system. Knowledge, deliveries, dating advice—nothing is theoretically outside the realm of what Magic is willing to do for its lazy clientele. It's available all across the US—local couriers permitting. For more reasonable requests (food, commodities, cleaning, etc.), it's easy to imagine how Magic gets the job done. Hire a messenger to run by the bodega. Queue up a delivery through Seamless. For more bizarre, more intricate requests, however—who knows.
The important thing is: That's not for you to worry about. And therein lies the appeal. So in testing Magic to the fullest we could, we of course decided to lean towards the strange. I needed a chiclid and I needed it now.
Happily. Of course. I'd love to. The fish will die, but if that's what you desire, condemning it is my pleasure.
Maybe I was lucky, or maybe it was the $50 I paid to skip the 13,685(!) lazy, more monetarily responsible people in line ahead of me, but texting Magic felt like texting a very competent and ephemeral Stepford Wife.
My new nameless friend wasn't just a robot on the other side of the phone, a consciousness floating somewhere in digital space—he/she/it had opinions. And input. And the gumption to go talk to an aquarium specialist for 20 minutes about the viability of demanding an instant fish ecosystem as a matter of course. My operator even made sure to include species-specific food—and rocks, plastic trees, a tank heater, and a giant bag of ready-to-go water. Someone carried 3 gallons of fish-ready water through New York and up two flights of stairs because I asked. I felt like a garbage human. But then I met my new pal:
Above: A fish called Stango.
Of course, all this convenience comes at a cost. A monetary one, in addition to the self-loathing. Supposedly, Magic's fee varies according to the time and effort it takes to fulfill your request, and as one of the cofounders told Wired, there's still no uniform system in place for determining service charge. We were never explicitly told how much Magic was charging us on top of the fish, tank, and courier cost, but we'd estimate it to be somewhere in the realm of $50 to $75, that in addition to the $50 I'm-rich-and-lines-don't-apply-to-me fee. Of course, if you have them find someone to fetch you a bag of chips, they likely won't tack on more than a few bucks.
That casual approach likely comes from the fact that Magic came about as more of an accident than a master plan. According to Wired, Magic's founders started the request number on a lark, with only a few people standing by to take requests. But as word got out this past weekend, it blew up into the thousands-long waitlist you'll find yourself at the back of should you try to use it today. The founders say there are still just 10-20 employees taking your requests, coordinating the moves of contracted local deliverymen from some mysterious bunker. (Maybe under the sea. Maybe in space?) But considering the wild demand, Magic is very much in the process of hiring more.
We reached out to Magic to ask about how its employees were handing the sudden explosions of requests, but have yet to hear back. In the meantime, I decided to go to the source itself.
That's the last we heard, so there are indeed some things even its regrettably named "Magicians" can't—or won't—do.
Where Uber and TaskRabbit and WunWun put you face-to-face with the unfortunate souls doing your bidding; you are the contractor. Magic makes that all go away. You just ask a kind friend and POOF, so it is. It prides itself on facelessness. There are no real people to see, no phone calls, no real thought on your part at all. No time to think, no time to second guess yourself. You simply express a desire, and this shapeless service figures out the rest.
Which is a terrifyingly easy mindset to fall into. The lengths we took Magic to were absurd for effect, but the fact that was as inanely simple as it was makes it easy to see how you could fall into the toxic pattern of outsourcing nearly everything. But the examples Magic gives on its website hit pretty much every flavor of more mundane "shit, I need to do this" that might float through your head on a daily basis.
And over 13,000 people (likely more by now) are scratching at their phones for a chance to remove one more layer of interaction, of human contact, and general accountability. A brand new way to offload humanity on some distant soul in the easiest way possible.
Oh and for the record, our fish is doing fine.