What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Hacking Vending Machines for Social Good

May 19, 2010, 3:39 PM
Greenaid1

There's hardly a feat of industrial design more emblematic of consumerism than the vending machine. But while vending machines may perpetuate a number of social ills – from conspiculous consumption to obesity to the cold commodification of goods – but it's hard to deny their extreme efficiency of transaction. So what if we took this technical efficiency and applied it to higher conceptual ideals, hacking the medium of the vending machine to dispense a message of social good?

In Germany, publishing house publisher Hamburger Automatenverlag is taking old cigarette vending machines and reoutfitting them to sell books by local authors – fiction, graphic novels, travel catalogues and poetry anthologies. What makes the effort particularly lovely is that literature is one of the few cultural artifacts that could actually use being commodified, if that means getting more books in the hands of more people and more authors on more coffeetables.

The concept, of course, is not new. In 1997, Art*o*mat took retired cigarette vending machines and rewired them to vend original art. Today, there are 82 active Art*o*mats around the US, with artwork by some 400 artists from 10 countries.

On the green front, California startup GreenAid offers "seedbomb" vending machines, rewiring old candy machines to sell garden seeds. Seedbombs, made from a mixture of clay, compost and seeds, are an increasingly popular currency of guerrilla gardening, the growing grassroots movement of urban-dwellers tending to gardens in cities. So the idea of making planting parsley as accessible and convenient as getting a candy bar offers a welcome antidote to everything junk food stands for.

Greenaid is equally an interactive public awareness campaign, a lucrative fundraising tool, and a beacon for small scale grass roots action that engages directly yet casually with local residents to both reveal and remedy issues of spatial inequity in their community." ~ Common Studio / GreenAid

And just a few weeks ago, PepsiCo launched The Dream Machine – a "reverse" vending machine that invites you to recycle beverage containers and pays you back. The effort rolled out with 150 machines in North Carolina, but plans to place over 3,000 in Southern California this summer, with the ambitious goal of recycling at least 400 million cans and bottles annually.

For a look at some more unusual takes on the vending machine around the world, do check out Christopher D. Salyers' Vending Machines: Coined Consumerism, spanning everything from a holy water dispenser in Greece to a SmartCar vending machine in Japan.

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.

 

Hacking Vending Machines fo...

Newsletter: Share: