The Soda Machine

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Free Soda

In my old high school there was this soda machine that sat outside of one of the main lunchrooms. It must have been fairly profitable since it was uniquely positioned. Very often hungry teenagers plus easily accessible soft drinks equals easy profit.

One day a friend of mine told me about one of these machines. It had developed an interesting malfunction -- whenever you put in a dollar it gave you two back in change! The machine's unique placement was also its curse -- only students used the machine and teachers typically used the one in their lounge, so you could not rely upon a responsible adult to notify the vendor of the problem.

For our soda machine the net result was N-1 (N+1-2 = N-1). If the machine was consistently malfunctioning the soda machine operator would have noticed on the very next filling. Whatever amount of money he left to make change and the number of soda cans should have been reduced. He would have immediately corrected the problem.

Now imagine that our soda machine operator did not like his job very much and simply refilled the machine with money and sodas. Next, imagine that our assumption about the resulting amount of money was also incorrect -- the machine did not always malfunction but only malfunctioned on Tuesdays. School is open on weekdays so the machine operated correctly 16 out of a possible 20 days (4 weeks times 5). The end result is that the actual loss was really a function of how many people were aware of the machine's faulty operation.

Highly Automated Systems

What happened here? When a highly automated system was placed in easy reach of the immature (and/or the nefarious) the result was chaos. We'll ignore the nefarious intentions for now and concentrate on immaturity. Immaturity can be defined as a lack of sufficient mental models to understand the ramifications of action or non-action in a given environment. So when you watch Naked and Afraid you are typically watching people who are immature for the rainforest romp around and make themselves sick and injured for your viewing pleasure.

Add the Cumulative Effect of Advertising

When lots of people learn how to get free/nearly free stuff, as is the case when that communication increases their number exponentially, our resource can go bankrupt. We see the problem play out over and over again. How about the music industry and illegal downloads? What about today's favorite issue -- ride sharing versus cabs? On a global scale, what about H1-B visas and widespread abuse? In each case an interview of the system's purveyors revealed that they did not intend the negative effects.

System deficiencies are exacerbated when some kind of advertising is unleashed upon the immature. Children, pummeled with years of advertisements about soft drinks, are suddenly given a scenario where free soda is available. Reason gives way to the repeated, deeply ingrained images and theft is the result. A nice clean ride in a friendly person's car is more appealing than the dirty cabs we find in most cities. Nevermind that virtually every time you perform ride sharing where cabs are available you impoverish cab driver's families. In the case of music downloading years of videos and award shows depicting music artists as living the good life makes downloading a few songs seem insignificant. In the case of H1-B visas America suffers from its own perceived invulnerability. Years of promoting America as 'the greatest, richest country in the world' have come back to haunt us. You cannot convince newcomers that Americans cannot simply walk out and find another job when they believe that Americans are supermen in possession of inexhaustible wealth.

Two Recourses

In order to fix these problems you need a two pronged approach:

Recourse #1) Educate everybody.

By itself this really does not work. The recording industry tried it with everything from admonishments to threats of imprisonment for downloading. The horrible compromises we find today are the Apple music store and SoundCloud, both of which provide greatly diminished profits to music artists. A wholesale attack on immaturity means not only cramming them with new mental models but combating the pre-existing and forthcoming advertising messages that appeal to the non-rational parts of people's psyche with revised messages. It is a bit like the 'drink responsibly' message at the end of a television liquor advertisement -- too little, much too late.

Recourse #2) Move the soda machine.

You cannot have what you cannot reach.

Soda machines really should not be next to the lunch room entrances. Ride sharing really should only be available to certain areas of cities or at certain times when regular cabs are unavailable. If you like a song so much that you stream it more than three times you probably should be forced to buy the album. There should be much tougher regulations on how many H1-B visas are made available and companies that outsource entire departments overseas should pay such a high financial penalty they would rue the day they made the attempt.

The LIMS Tie-In

We will see how all this will eventually play out in the LIMS marketplace. The U.S. job market has become just like that malfunctioning soda machine where employers and third party companies are all holding up their dollars claiming innocence. Until we become smart enough to see the cumulative net effects of our actions and get serious about regulation the logical result is destruction.

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Citation: The Soda Machine. (2017). Retrieved Sat Jul 22 04:38:30 2017, from;iid=readMore;go=1490723160