Swap-o-Matic: Consumerism to cast-offs

A new kind of vending machine mocks consumerism and allows users to swap items for free.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Vending machines -- do you want a can of soda, a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar?

I have seen some strange things in these types of dispensers. In my time at university, I saw machines stuffed full of instant soups, frozen meals, chips and fresh eggs, but the 'Swap-o-Matic' is in another league.

The Swap-o-Matic vending machine is the brainchild of New York City-based Lina Fenequito, and it tries to be a playful reminder that consumerism isn't always the only option. The vending machine allows you to you "recycle things you no longer need and get things you want -- all for free."

Once you enter an email address on the machine's touch screen, you are issued with three 'credits'. These credits can be used in exchange for items that other users donate, and you can earn more credits by donating items in return. The entire exchange is free. Each credit can be used to 'buy' one item.

The vending machine also includes other features, such as a user flag system to prevent misuse or stagnation of the system.

The goal of Swap-o-Matic is to remind users that blind consumption isn't the only way to live. Taking inspiration from sites such as Swap.com and Freecycle, the scheme runs on the idea of sustainable living through a barter exchange, rather than flat-out purchasing.

The creator of the scheme says on her website that the inspiration was due to life experience:

"Working with many inhabitants of low-income housing projects, I saw direct effects of jobs lost to cheaper overseas labor, further widening the gap of the rich and poor in our own communities. I realized that my relationship with consumer culture to be more than a personal one, but one that effected many others, on a massive global scale.

Experiencing this firsthand alerted me to the problem, which I began to see lay much deeper than a simple difference between rich and poor communities, but rather in an ingrained mindset of a culture that has been 'programmed' to consume and buy blindly without regards to consequences which inevitably ensue."

The project's chosen shape is not only a means for swapping various donated items, but apparently 'comments on the problematic culture by playing on notions of the immediacy, instant-gratification, and convenience', values that are always associated with vending machines.

The machines are currently on the streets of Brooklyn, New York City, but who knows where you might find one next.

Image credit: Swap-o-matic

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards