Instead of Snacks, This Vending Machine Spits Out Short Stories

Short Édition’s dispensers give readers a serendipitous literary experience.

The vending machine—what better symbol is there of Western civilization’s culture of convenience and unhealthy snacks? But what if one could instead feast on words, stories, and ideas?

This is the vision behind Short Édition, a series of eight vending machines dotted across Grenoble, France, that spit out original short fiction as well as haiku and other poetry. While the team behind the machine sees the stories as a way to fill the idle moments while, say, waiting for buses or subways, the project also has potential as an engine for improving literacy and imagination, while temporarily tearing people away from the bright gaze of their mobile devices.

Short Édition’s Quentin Pleplé tells GOOD that the idea arose, not too surprisingly, while he and colleagues were taking a break from work to visit a vending machine.

“We were actually not thinking about work, just having a break at the snack vending machine,” he says. “We thought it would be cool to have it for short stories. Then, a couple of days later we decided to hack a prototype. [Thus] the short story dispenser was born.”

Hacking the prototype meant going old-school. Pleplé said that the Short Édition team bought some “electronic components” and soldered them together. “It wasn’t pretty, but it was working,” he says.

From a user perspective, the short story dispensers are free and available anytime. Once users have spotted one, they simply press one of the story vending machine’s three buttons, which spits out stories that can be read in one, three, or five minutes. The ability to choose the length is as much control as the users are given. From there, the machine takes over, printing a random short story or poem.

“The 600 short stories in the dispensers are the best stories written and selected by the community on Short Édition: 141,000 subscribers and 1,100 authors,” Pleplé said.

Genres currently represented include adventure, thriller, drama, and romance. (One genre users won’t be seeing is erotica, which, given that this is France, might be a bit of a shame.) Every story dispensed by Short Édition can be read by a 10-year-old. But despite the nearly-all-ages format and broad target audience, Pleplé says that the feedback on the story dispensers has been overwhelmingly positive. The current contract, however, is only with the city of Grenoble. But, as with any good piece of technology, the machine’s creators are hoping to expand everywhere they can—they are looking to install vending machines in the United States and Italy, and seeking other willing collaborators.

Julian Meehan

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