The unsung office hero

Working for a company in a rapidly changing industry, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of the team members who deliver the goods day-in day-out. It’s important that these unsung heroes are recognised, and their milestones marked.

So when my coworkers spotted that the office coffee machine was approaching its 100,000th drink they decided it was worth a party. The good folks at Flavia obliged with supplies of chocolate to go with the centemillennial celebrations.

As the number on the LCD crept up, about 20 of us crowded into the narrow corridor where the coffee machine lives, ready to cheer its achievement.

Some people were hoping for some kind of crazy embedded software Easter egg, but the machine modestly just did its thing, exactly as it had for the other 99,999 drinks. The honoured recipient of the beige plastic cupful of “Smooth Roast” reported that it tasted “lovely”.

Here’s the machine quietly communicating the moment…

100,000 drinks

In their fascinating work, The Media Equation, Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass demonstrate how people instinctively relate to machines as if they were human, even if they have no outwardly human attributes. Their work focuses on individual interactions with computers and how we treat them with politeness and respect, not wanting to hurt their feelings.

The Flavia party takes this a step further. Not only is the coffee machine treated as sentient each time it dispenses a drink, but over the years (five, maybe?) it has become part of the team. It has certainly out-done many human employees in length of service.

Interestingly it was the count of “Total Drinks” that increased our emotional connection with the coffee machine. The counter feature was doubtless included as an aid to maintenance and service rather than for public consumption, yet it made us think differently about the machine’s role in the epic narrative of our corporate life. If we can get through that many hot beverages together, then we too must be heroes of a sort.

When its time finally comes to be “upgraded” or whatever indignity awaits, I hope we will treat the coffee machine with the deference accorded by Icelandic civil servants to their IBM 1401, as recorded here.

Oh, and the chocolate was lovely too.

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mattedgar

Product strategy and design leadership in web and mobile media. Before that I was a newspaper journalist and history student

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