So I’m completely ignoring the fact that I’m supposed to be writing a post about the direction I want to take my final paper to give you this, this, this, this, and this! Talk about some serious human-computer interaction!

In case you don’t want to read even just one of those links (they’re very similar anyway): Coke has set up a vending machine at the university of Singapore that gives you a coke if you give it a hug. Yup. That’s it. A basically free coke, all you have to do is give the machine a love squeeze.

“The Coca Cola Hug Machine is a simple idea to spread some happiness. Our strategy is to deliver doses of happiness in an unexpected, innovative way to engage not only the people present, but the audience at large,” said a representative from the company’s “Open Happiness” campaign, Leonardo O’Grady.

This is kind of like the Free Hugs campaign, but instead of getting a hug from a person as your reward for giving a hug, you get a coke. On the surface, it seems really cute, playful, and innocent.

Is it possible that Coca Cola is just feeding off of the innocent playfulness of the free hugs campaign?

The Free Hugs campaign has a similar goal to the one mentioned in the quote from Coca Cola: that of “delivering doses of happiness” to people. This video on youtube is responsible for much of the popularity of the campaign (as well as the popularity of the Australian rock band Sick Puppies). Although the article doesn’t mention the Free Hugs campaign, it’s hard not to see the link (but I guess I’m biased in that way). Both campaigns claim to be giving out happiness through hugging. The Coke machine just also happens to reward your physical manifestation of your love for the brand with a coke. I wonder if people who know about the Free Hugs campaign have a different reaction to this machine than people whose worldviews do not include this notion of a “free hug” from something or someone unexpected.

Is it playing off of our biological responses to hugs?

Hugging people has a direct chemical and biological affect on your body. When you hug another person, your body’s Oxytocin levels increase.

“Oxytocin does more than make us feel good. It lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body, reducing blood pressure, improving mood, increasing tolerance for pain and perhaps even speeding how fast wounds heal. It also seems to play an important role in our relationships. It’s been linked, for example, to how much we trust others.” source

That last line actually makes this hugging Coke machine less cute and more creepy. Is hugging the Coke machine making you trust Coca Cola, the brand, more? Or just that particular machine? Can a machine trigger the Oxytocin response? We read an article sometime last year (I forget for which class) that claims people treat machines the same way they treat other people.

The results of this study show that playing with Sony’s AIBO dog robot reduces stress levels and has other mental health benefits, but does NOT result in increased ocytocin production (dang it! I thought I was getting somewhere really interesting).

I want to continue thinking about this, but I guess I should quit procrastinating and get back to capstone work.