12.24.2005

On the Psychological Impact of Delayed Gratification

Have you ever noticed that many soda machines have a peculiar--one might say pregnant--pause between the time you make your selection and the time the drink thumps down the chute? If you're like me, you stalk your prey a while before springing and committing 55 cents. You wait for some other sucker to try the machine first so you can see if it works. But sometimes you're in a hurry and there's no time. You have to take the risk yourself. You know what I mean. The road to that sugar rush is paved with uncertainties. Do I have enough change? Will it accept the coins, or somehow believe in its tiny brain that I'm trying to foist off Canadian money on it? What if it takes one quarter but not the other? Will I get the quarter back? Does the machine even have the type of soda I want?

Okay, I don't really obsess about these things , but such can thoughts tickle at the back edges of one's mind. The big bugaboo is, of course, whether or not the machine will keep its end of the bargain. It SAYS there's a Coke in there, it TAKES your money, but does it GIVE you the Coke? Because sometimes it doesn't.

My theory is that it's all intentional. They build the machines to aggravate people with the chance of lost money/no Coke. You probably think me daft. Why on earth would they intentionally build faulty machines? Surely the few extra coins they'd get from stealing money this way wouldn't make up for all the bad will, complaints, service calls, hate mail, etc.

My evidence is the pregnant pause. In this world of high-tech gagetry, computerized breast implants (well, silicon anyway), Wi-Fi everything, don't you think they could build a machine that didn't wait for two seconds after you press the Coke button before it works its mechanical mandibles and DROPS the thing? My old 80286 ran at 12 megahertz back in the '90s -- what possible excuse could they have today?

Here's why I think they do it. Think about your state of mind when you press the button. There's no "click" or snap to tell you the transaction is complete, only these wimpy buttons that feel like a marshmallow when you press them. No transaction satisfaction there. So you hold it in that extra second to make sure, right? And you're waiting for that sweet sound of live machinery doing your bidding. And you wait. And you become anxious. Your fears build the anticipation to a fever pitch, and THUNK the lovely can spanks in to the dispenser! You're so relieved that you almost weep for joy!

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit. But the relief you feel at having given birth to a shiny new Coke bonds you to the product. You forget all the anxiety and rejoice in the brand you have selected. You can't buy that kind of emotional attachment to a brand. I bet some smart marketting guy thought of this.

I had to swear off the stuff. I couldn't bring myself to actually open the can, what with all we'd been through. So I got this little refrigerator to keep him cold. I'm trying to pick out a name if you have any ideas.

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