Is the digital magic we seek too simple?

Imagine getting anything you want by simply texting a number you saw on a single webpage. Are you hungry for a pepperoni pizza? Need to get flowers for your mum? Want a helicopter? Send a simple text to the number, and, as if by magic, what you wanted is found. If the find meets with your approval, with a simple “yeah,” you pay (automatically with your phone) and whatever it was you wanted is dispatched to your house. Well, for a few friends in America, they did more than imagine such transactions. They created the process, and appropriately, this new digital sensation was called “Magic”.


Last weekend, California-based tech developers at Plus Labs got bored while creating a blood pressure app. Company CEO Mike Chen said he had an idea about a text message request service and he was curious to see it would work: simply text someone what you need, and they will get it for you. The only caveat was it had to be legal. They shared Magic – which was really nothing more than a local phone number – with a few friends. Well, as friends do, they shared it with a few others and the rest is “viral” history.

Magic found its way to the site Product Hunt, then soon reached the top of Hacker News. What was started as a side project became a new product within two days. Magic was released on Saturday. Then the team saw the number of text messages skyrocket. They topped 10,000 incoming messages on Sunday and reached nearly 18,000 messages by Monday morning.

Now industry experts are busy trying to figure out why. There is nothing digitally mysterious by the simplicity of “send us a text message, and we’ll get you what you want.” The creators had the technology readily available – from the SMS capability on all phones to mobile payment through a third-party provider. It doesn’t hold any financial data, merely adds on service charge, and presto.

Since the release, the group from Plus Labs has encountered some growing pains. It has brought in some additional texts, but has hit some logistical problems in matching reality to the requests. In one situation, a reporter testing the system got an entire family-sized platter of food rather than the sandwich he requested. There have been some obvious logistic problems with stores being closed, the team has also admitted. Regardless of whether Magic works over the long term, its immediate impact and viral success speaks volumes about technology, mobility and human nature. Maybe it is the “Uber”-fication of our lives. Calling a cab is no longer fast or easy enough for us. With Uber, you can directly sync your mobile phone with a private taxi driver who will immediately respond to your transportation needs. No more call needed. But Magic takes all facets of life to the Uber level. Just a week ago, when we wanted to order a pizza, we had a few options:

1) you could call, talk to someone, and maybe have to offer credit cards details. It is the same with flowers, or a curry.

2) you could go online and buy it there. Plus, there is always an app for that. Or

3) you could always physically go out to buy what you are looking to make yourself feel more complete.

With so many ways to get things, why is the simplicity of Magic resonating with so many? With a simple “yeah” on a text, all your pressing needs can be fulfilled. Are we getting lazier, or becoming de-sensitised to technology? Or has our fascination for digital shortcuts made us gravitate to faster and easier ways of getting things done? Possibly the most important issue to grow out of the Magic viral moment is trying to determine whether our need for simplicity has limits.

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