Tuesday, 28 April 2009


The coffee machine in my work's canteen does not want to tell you what it vends. There's no indication of what sort of coffee it contains, what blend, what brand, or what bean. It's probably seriously pissed off about the fact that it dispenses some sort of coffee being contextually implicit. This machine is playing its cards close to its chest, and I can respect that.

But it nevertheless offers us options. It offers us buttons. Here are the four buttons on the coffee machine in my work's canteen...

  1. Black Coffee
  2. Fair-Trade Black Coffee
  3. White Coffee
  4. Fair-Trade White Coffee
Right, so, lets say we want white coffee. We've no information as to whose white coffee, nothing to tie us to an existing brand-loyalty or expectation of a particular flavour. We've no choice to make except whether we want our coffee to be Fair-Trade or not. What's going to sway our decsion?

Well, it's probably going to be the price, isn't it?

So here's the price of a cup of White Coffee from the machine... £1.15.

And here's the price of a cup of Fair-Trade White Coffee from the machine... £1.15.

And here's the question I've been struggling to get my head round all day...


It's just a direct and uncomplicated choice..."Are you a bastard? Click Y for 'Yes', Click N for 'No'."

The 'White Coffee' button offers you nothing! It offers you no assurance of a familiar taste and it offers you no saving of cash! What can anyone gain from pressing the white coffee button?

Then it became obvious. What we've got in this unique scenario (so unique it sounds like I've invented it as some sort of allegory, but no, it's TWUE!) is such a simple choice between pressing a button that says, "I would like some of my £1.15 to go to the poor impoverished bastards who grew this stuff" and a button that says "I would like all of my £1.15 to go to the greedy bastards who're exploiting them" that there's no reason for that button to be there except to give people an oppertunity to do something wrong.

And that's its genius.

Because I work in a hospital. Hospitals are full of oppertunities to do things that are very wrong. They're full of physically vulnerable patients, emotionally vulnerable relatives, onnerous responsibilities and staff who're either exhausted, bitter or jaded. There's a very real desire to do wrong seething away in the heads and hearts of a lot of people in a position to do something horribly, monstrously wrong. So they've been given a saftely valve. They've been given a trivial, daily evil they can commit. They've been given a button.

One day this week I shall sit in the canteen and count how many press 'White Coffee' button, and I shall feel safer for knowing that many Harold Shipmans have been averted.


  1. What is 'white coffe'? Is that just coffee with cream and sugar in it? Because if that is indeed evil then I've been mixing evil in my kitchen in the mornings on a semi-regular basis.

  2. That's the stuff, but this one's all about *context*. No need to exorcise your kitchen.

  3. I don't know. Some of the stuff in the back of the fridge is questionably evil.