Day 162: Care to Share?

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June 10, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra

It’s no big secret that the economy (our, yours, theirs) is in poor shape.  Since 2008, a lot of people have been tightening the belt when it comes to spending – we’re doing more with less, and while we haven’t given up luxury, we’re clipping coupons for it.  Maybe this means that gone are the days of careless consumption, though frankly I’m in inclined to think that modern human behavior tends towards old habits of materialism for materialism’s sake.  Our economies have depended on that sort of consumption for quite some time, and with things as shaken up as they are now, I think there’s reason for some rethinking of all of that.  Over the past few years, which were really amongst the first years in which I’ve made any sort of substantial consumption (buying appliances, furniture, electronics, etc. for myself), I’ve found myself searching high and low for the best deals, scouting out refurbished, re-certified and second-hand stuff in good shape and at great deals.  Craigslist, eBay, Yardsellr…they’re just a few of the places I turn to first when I’m in the market for something I want, and their dual-directionality has earned me a little cash, too.  The second-hand, underground economy is booming during what are the darker days for the boxed and branded, taxable and firsthand markets.  Today’s project has opened up a first-of-its kind trading post in the underground economy, and is looking now to set up shop in a town near you.

The Swap-o-Matic is an automatic trade station.  A vending machine for sharing, swapping and trading my stuff for yours and her stuff for his.  The first installation in Brooklyn has been so remarkable in its share-and-share-alike success that the team behind it is now turning to Kickstarter to expand the project with both more Swap-o-Matic machines in more locations around the U.S., as well as online integration and metrics to help pass along photos, maps, ratings and stories along with your stuff.

This project co-ops the form of a vending machine, which is usually associated with instant gratification and convenient consumption, to promote a more sustainable alternative to buying things new, raise awareness about conscious consumption, and make swapping fun!

They’ve worked out a clever system of credits to promote forthright and equitable exchange, but I have a feeling that trying to scam a system like this would be met with more social backlash than would make the theft worthwhile.

The sharing economy is growing up around us – people are sharing bikes, cars and even houses in ways that would have seemed impossible 10 years ago.  I look at the Swap-o-Matic as a sign of the mentality behind that sort of exchange – of owning less but doing more, and if nothing else, as an interesting experiment in human behavior and social exchange.  Help take this experiment to the next level by backing the Swap-o-Matic project on Kickstarter before June 17.


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