In our earbud-filled commutes, sometimes it’s nice to find a different distraction. And while a book from home is always good, French commuters have a new way to both occupy themselves during their commute and add a bit of surprise and serendipity to their lives: A new machine that prints short pieces of literature at the press of a button.
The Short Stories Distributor machine was created by Short Edition, a French site that lets writers connect with an audience. Currently it has 5,000 authors, and 170,000 registered readers. The machine is connected to the Short Edition network, and prints one of its 50,000 stories when a customer hits a button. The vendee can choose just how short their story will be, with buttons to choose either one, three, or five-minute reads. The result is printed on a paper strip, like the receipt you get at the supermarket. You may get a poem, a kids’ story, or even a snippet of news.
“We thought it might be fun to have a distributor of stories in the same way as a vending machine,” said Short Edition director Christophe Sibieude at the launch of the first terminal in October. “The paper gives a real breath, it is much more unexpected than a smartphone.” [statement machine-translated from French]
Maybe the most famous buyer of the machine is Francis Ford Coppola. The movie maker had one delivered to him in San Francisco, where he installed it in his Cafe Zoetrope restaurant. Coppola likes short stories, he says, because you read them in one sitting, like a movie. But the majority of the Short Stories Distributors are in France. The 24 units already installed in railways stations will soon be joined by 11 more, and in France as a whole, over 70 have been put to work.
Art vending machines aren’t new. In London in the early ’00s, lots of pubs and bars in hipster areas installed repurposed cigarette vending machines that sold small pieces of art, often locally made. Putting art into a vending machine is of course a statement in itself, if a rather obvious one, but in the case of the Short Stories Distributor, it’s the kind of art you can actually use. And unlike the stories we might read on our smartphones as we ride the train, when you’re done you can leave the paper on the seat for somebody else to read, just like we used to do with newspapers.