At a U.K. hackerspace called Nottinghack, literally everything is wired—including the vending machine. It tweets when someone buys a snack.
Originally, the group customized the vending machine so members could buy something with a tap of an RFID card if they didn’t happen to have cash on hand. Then, just because it was possible, they set up the machine to start telling everyone what someone had purchased.
"It would tweet something like ‘Daniel has bought a confectionary from the vending machine for 50p’ or ‘Daniel has bought crisps from the vending machine,’" says James Hayward, a trustee at Nottingham Hackspace. Since they switched the snacks often, it didn’t list specific candy bars or chips by name, though that could easily be programmed.
The problem? No one really wanted to share their candy-buying habits. "People got angry—playfully—with the Twitter account that sends the messages," Hayward says. "They’d say things like ‘I thought this was our secret, why are you telling everyone I bought snacks?'"
Eventually, it annoyed so many people that the group decided to shut down the tweets. But Hayward says that in theory something similar could be done in an office that wanted to experiment with a little social pressure to encourage employees to eat healthier.
He notes that the Nottinghack machine never sent tweets to the entire Twitterverse, but instead only reached a protected group of members. A public vending machine probably would run into barriers with tweeting. "It would need to know who was using it, which would require unprecedented data sharing and would likely raise data protection issues in various countries," Hayward says.
In an office, things could be set up differently. "It could be absolutely be used in an organization," he says. "You could do all sorts of things to make it more acceptable, like instead of saying a full name, say, 'James from HR has just bought a candy bar.'"
One wonders if it might also have unintended effects: All this talk about candy bars is making me think about an afternoon snack. Maybe a better solution is to get rid of office vending machines entirely, or replace them with something like this machine that only sells tasty salads.