2008-09 Gathering of Voices

Vending Machine

Hung Nguyen

The man put a coin into a machine and pressed some buttons, and a can of coca cola rolled out for everyone. That was a show at the fair nine years ago in my country, Vietnam. At the time, it was welcomed as a new technique and a wonderful thing that will change our old-fashioned, buy-sell habits. But after seven years, there are still only about ten machines in my home city, a city with over ten million people. Coming to America, I have seen these machines everywhere. Vending machines service Americans effectively, and have become accustomed to by most Americans.

As most McDonaldized systems; in America, vending machines have got a high effect on commercial area. An owner can run a lot of machines, and they only need to hire one worker who can manage at least one hundred machines (I guess). All profit, of course, is poured back to their owner. There are some machines even inside supermarkets, even though if we walk several feet into the store, there is a much cheaper price. Why do Americans buy food from this machine?

In America, time is money. Individuals always rush for business, so taking a snack when you are hungry is a good choice at the vending machines. The goods are prepared simple and stable. Customers, even a kid, can guess how much they need to pay for an item. Customers only look at symbols, numbers, and signs to decide what they need, and in only five seconds, the customer can buy their foods from machine. They can experience a snack quickest. And in winter, under the cold weather outside, these machines will be useful for most people who are often lazy to prepare meals at home. The money is less than a half hour average income of Americans; they will buy cake, candy and soft drink for a snack. So why haven’t vending machines become more popular in my country?

One reason is that owners need to invest a lot of money at one time for all machines. With so much money available and the high technologic development in America, it is very easy to invest in the machines as well as maintain them, while it is a difficult task in my country. In fact, Americans always invent new techniques to serve people, and most people are also easy to accept and perform a new technique even though it’s changing ancient habits. As in “Technopoly”, Postman stated that, “A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything.” (Postman18). Really, science has been changing everything. Inventing a new technology and accepting it easily is one of active characteristics that helps the USA develop fast. However, in Vietnam, it is a little bit difficult to accept a new tech that will be able to change ancient customs. Most people are always suspect of what is high tech. That is one reason why vending machine couldn’t be accepted in my country.

 In addition, there is a bigger reason for our disuse of vending machine though. In Vietnam, small shops for food or some drink are often run by housewives or disabled persons. They can’t find a job to support themselves. In my developing country, unemployment and disabled individuals aren’t able to be supported by government. Therefore, they make food at their home similar to what vending machines sell for customer and that is a worthwhile income for their life. People enjoy supporting those store’s owners. These owners have to be responsible to their customers and can take pride in running their own business. These small stores are also interesting places for people in the neighborhood to communicate together; they come to this small shop not only to buy and eat food, but they also discuss everything happening in society. When we buy foods at those stores, we create an income for these people. And they feel welcomed by the community and believe they can be useful and good for society. This is important thing and a reason people don’t want to change to the vending machine.

While high tech has been helping America run business effectively, all the inventions have poured money into the pockets of big bosses. Vending machine chains, for instance, had operated and become popular everywhere on the whole of USA, and we think that these new techniques have liberated humans and given them much more free time than they had. Looking at nice and modern machines, we will see one America developing wonderfully. However, applying a new technique, we will also analyze their pros and con factors. As in “Technopoly,” Neil Postman argues that we don’t understand how technology can affect society and that there usually end up losers. In addition to this, and more important, it is not always clear, at least in the early stages of a technology’s intrusion into a culture, who will gain most by it and who will lose most” (Postman 12). Usually, it is the poor who lose most though. In fact, if we go to the unemployment or welfare office, we will see a lot of people who maybe would not need to get benefits from the government if they had not lost their job because of high tech. These people are often considered as disabled or “lazy” persons. High tech capitalism has clearly split society people into two polar sides. The richer employers use high tech, so the fewer employees will be hired, and in time, the workers will become unemployed. In the USA, these workers who don’t have employment are looked down upon by everyone and frowned at for their actions. People in my country talk to poor and disable while America sees them as invisible.

I used to go to a small store in Ferndale (I read in newspaper it is a farm market) and was surprised when it was a small food store as similar as in my country (therefore, I think it is an old buy-sell habit of Americans before, too). I also saw two customers (husband and his spouse) choosing goods in there. Although there are not many goods in that store, those customers stayed in store a long time and talking to the seller until my family left. And there, they only accepted cash similar to my country. Furthermore, I asked myself, how many stores are there in America that stays this way with human connection even though they are not efficient? Now when I read essays “Technopoly” and “McDonaldization,” and the ideas of efficient and always more convenience advancing fast in America, I wonder how long until these farm markets will become our memories? Some day, perhaps we will only read it in the books. I ask myself when vending machine will develop with more and more choice and convenience and have many functions more that they were having. Do we always accept efficient over the traditional? Will small farm market with organic products exist or not?

When traveling to other states in America, it is as similar as McDonald chains. I saw vending machines appearing everywhere with the same kind, the same symbol, the same service. Therefore, I am not afraid of the food and drink they provided and know ahead of time how everything will taste. That is a successful business way of this machine. However, the sad part is I miss being surprised or experiencing new things. Everything are similar. On our trip, it would be nice to find new and local culture to attract us when traveling in this boring industrial world. It is a clear consequence of industrial chains that have being developed in the USA. These days, we can see many stores as McDonalds, Subway, Cold Stone, etc everywhere, but very few businesses with unique culture and personality.

I like most how Postman says we should approach technology. He states,” When we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.” (Postman 7) Americans idealize technology almost to the point of foolishness. Every technology has effects no one can predict, and it affects what our culture knows and values. Even the big benefit technology has negative that balance it. For instance, when computers were introduced to my country, the government was hesitant to accept them. Consequently, until 1990, there were only a few computers at the biggest medical university in Vietnam. In the last years of twentieth century, computers became the value machine of families. We often wished to own a computer at home. To develop high tech, the government decided to import computers into my country and connect towns to the internet. In some way, it is benefit, but they have been becoming a big problem in society, too. Beside the effective functions, they have become the worry of the whole society. The “bad web” as well as addiction games on line has been ruining our children. It is also a problem for American children. Although parents try, they often can’t get their kids to leave computer for homework. Computers and the internet have been changing the ancient culture of my Asian country. In “Technopoly”, Postman quotes a letter from Sigmund Freud in which he talks about the negative impact of technology that he witnessed in his life. Freud admits that technologies such as railroads and telephones have made communication and travel easier, but notes that “if there had been no railway to conquer distance, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice.”(qtd. in Postman 8). Therefore, we always remember that all of things have pros and con facets; in new tech, besides accepting new things, we have to warn and prevent negative factors caused by these new techniques.

From a simple technology, vending machines have succeeded commercially in the USA. They have moved us to a new habit little by little, and it has become accustomed to by everybody. Beside a small advantage of convenience, they are part of a system to change our traditional buy-sell habits form personal to technological. Is it good for our world when scientists always develop higher techniques to serve human and be more efficient always, so we don’t need to talk each other or communicate about market and food. Maybe in several decades more, we will see that most restaurants have become vending machine forms without anybody serving at them. No cook, no waitress, no conversation between people. All will be set up automatically. Communication will become a strange notion for all of us. That is the world of machines and contracts.

Works Cited

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York : Knopf, 1992. Print.

Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society. London: Pine Forge Press, 2004. Print.

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