I have developed something of a love/hate relationship with vending machines. I love the convenience and the wide variety of sugary snacks that cater to my ever so sweet tooth, but I hate the way those very same machines treat me sometimes. They have stolen my money, simply refusing to drop my treat or offer a refund. They have seared my flesh with a final splash of scalding hot coffee, released just as I am about to remove my cup, but the worst piece of vending machine abuse comes when my delicious pack of greasy, salty chips get wedged between the spiral and the glass, teasing you as it refuses to budge.
I always try to remain calm when this happens, as I am positive that there are hidden cameras all around, filming my reaction. Who else but a sick-minded voyeur would design the distance between spiral and glass at about an inch and a half shorter than the length of a bag of chips? They are watching, I can feel it.
Most of those errors can be chalked up to design flaws and the new machines seem less prone to messing up, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t. The more fancy and user-friendly we make them, the bigger the possibility that machine is going to go rogue and start acting up. Look at the vending machine advances made in Japan, where the vending machine is king; hungry customers over there can just type a number into their cell phones and, bingo, out pops their order. I’m the first to admit that I am cell phone ignorant, I have one, but I text on it, that’s about all. If I had to rely on my phone to grab a snack, I’m absolutely positive I would mis-dial the product number and end up with $150 in long distance charges to Singapore rather than the 90 cent Twix I wanted in the first place.
Another great technological step forward is the introduction of debit and credit card readers as well as, or even sometimes in place of, the traditional coin and paper readers. Do vending machine manufacturers really believe that all the years of stolen coins and folding and re-folding a one dollar bill so that the machine can read it can be washed away simply by putting in a little digital reader? If a little slot can devour copper and nickel coins, what will it do with a flimsy piece of plastic that falls apart in your wallet when you sit down a certain way?
I complain, but I will probably embrace those new technologies when they show up our local malls, but I will still never resort to vending machine violence when it all goes wrong, because I know they are still watching.