Friday, March 9, 2012

Spotlight on Technology: A Low-Tech, Greener eBay?

I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old and don't feel like keeping up with our ever-expanding quest for the latest and greatest marvels of technology. Oh, don't get me wrong...I've had an ongoing love affair with computers for nearly 40 years now, although admittedly it's been a rocky marriage at times. I've embraced many changes along the way, including PCs, email, instant messaging, online banking and bill paying, Web worlds, and social media. But I remember simpler times, and sometimes would just like to see things slow down a bit. On his late night network talk show, Craig Ferguson often jokingly tries to explain what a book is by describing it as "a papery blog," a characterization that for me seems to hit home.

In this highly automated, throw-away society, it was refreshing for me to find out about a new concept in vending machines called the "Swap-o-Matic". Although the name screams of Ron Popeil, the Swap-o-Matic is actually the brainchild of Lina Fenequito, a graduate of Duke University with a degree in computer science and visual arts. Essentially, it is a bartering system. You give something that you no longer need to the machine, and in return you get to choose from a selection of items that others have given back, thus breathing life into the old PC-adjusted adage: "One person's trash is another person's treasure."

The machine works on a credit system. You start by setting up an account using an e-mail address, which is done to help provide some accountability and control. New users are given three credits, which they can use for purchasing items from the machine (each item costs one credit). When they donate something to the machine, they are then given a credit which they can use to purchase an additional item.

The goal of the system is to encourage people to exchange their unwanted items, rather than throwing them away. Their web site declares that "the Swap-o-matic is a vending machine that encourages users to trade rather than buy! It playfully reminds us that reusing and recycling can be just as fun as buying something new."

As far as I can tell, there is only one vending machine currently set up, at a creamery in New York City. They are however actively soliciting sponsorship for additional machines, and are hopeful that the program catches on and expands. Whether it does or not, it is a noble cause and I would recommend that you take the time to read the full story on their web site, You can also read about them at


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