Mechanical Food

When I was a kid I used to go to high school basketball games on Friday nights like all other kids in my small town. Similar to today, most of my time was spent not watching the game, but out in the lobby talking with friends about girls or eating junk food. Junk food was simpler in the 1970’s and one of the things I remember most about my early introduction to mechanical food was a very simple apple dispenser. I suspect it was manufactured in the 1950’s because of its heavy metal frame and simple design. You put in a dime, pulled a round lever, then a chain moved to roll the apple off a small metal ledge where it would bounce into the bottom bin. Simple.

Recently, while on a road trip out-of-state we stayed in one of the larger national hotel chains. Just like everything else, a lot has changed: now you get a card to slide in where the lock used to be, you have WiFi access in your room, and little soaps in tubes with lengthy floral names line the sink area.  As I am want to do (since childhood) I decided to have a look around and see what other changes were heralded in with the 21st century. It wasn’t long until I happened upon a glowing neon pop machine. It seemed pretty standard in spite of having a well-lit interior and large selection panel. Pop has become a rare treat in my post 50 days, so I decided to risk 16 ounces of fructose as my wife was asleep and not there to badger me. I followed procedure and my dollar bill was soon sucked into the slot of mystery before I pressed the illuminated button in the middle of the stack. Whiiirrrrrrr-gizzzzz. I felt as if I had activated some robot in hibernation waiting only for some unsuspecting human to start the dial of cosmic doom for which it was programed. An odd clear plastic arm spun into action from behind a dark panel before becoming a Willy Wonka elevator picking up my pop like a passenger before quickly and quietly delivering it to the ejection bin. I felt like I was in Logan’s Run accessing the hidden key of life before proceeding to sanctuary. A few other thoughts occurred to me as well: one, how many design hours and resources were put in to developing this monstrocity of pop delivery? Two, how many times is it necessary to design something with such a simple task, and three, isn’t redundancy of simplicity a major flaw in our system? How many mouse traps do we really need? I mean, just because I have the capability to invent the pop machine 3600 times does that really make it necessary? I wonder if corporate types used the money saved from inventing 3599 other versions of pop machines if we might have already cured cancer or actually launched the starship Enterprise.

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