So clever, so depressing: the English town of Clifton, having dwindled in economic strength over the years, has responded to the loss of its last place to shop with a giant vending machine. The so-called Speedy Shop — really, an oversized, building-shaped machine standing alone in a dreary parking lot — is meant to help bring some economic life back to the town.
As the BBC reports, “Milk, bread, toilet roll and even eggs are being sold from a large vending machine in a Derbyshire village after its only store closed 13 years ago.”
The idea for this “electric shop” — dreamt up by local businessman Peter Fox — is simultaneously brilliant and extremely dispiriting.
On one hand, it simply brings the recent trend for sticking more or less anything in a vending machine, from panties to crack pipes, to its logical conclusion, but with an almost utopian economic narrative attached to it. Indeed, Fox himself has pitched it as “a service to the community,” one that will keep local money truly local, and even attract curious tourists who will now visit Clifton specifically for the purpose of buying something out of a large outdoor machine.
But there is an obvious alternative interpretation available here, which is that any sufficiently lifeless town can simply replace its previously beloved institutions with interactive machines.
Imagine a kind of small-business-themed remake of Westworld, in which a group of life-long friends living in a small English village gradually realise they’re the only ones still in town. Everyone else left long ago and the only other activity in the otherwise silent streets are the driverless cars that come tootling through to restock the vending machines that have popped up on every corner. Selling postage stamps, cans of baked beans, even new socks and toiletries, these electric boxes quietly hum and glow, casting moody, Edward Hopper-like shadows on the rain-stained brick walls and sidewalks. Where are all these machines coming from? They wonder. Who made them? Is this happening in every other village nearby? After all, no one outside the village ever calls anymore…
Canes in hand, too infirm to drive, they stroll along in the artificial glow of these well-stocked mechanical cabinets as the sun sets over the sea, perhaps feeling like the last people on earth, just old friends curious how it got this way, unsure of what’s next, peering out their bedroom windows at night at the depopulated streets that shine through to the morning hours with strange machines. But they are intent on unravelling the mystery. [Pop-Up City]