A storytelling vending machine

The gloomiest day comes and you have nothing to do to cheer yourself up between your meetings, shopping trips and dates that you must keep with your friends and family. You long for the simplicity of childhood, when on a bad day, your grandmother would sit you down on a couch, give you a cup of hot chocolate (or even some juice) and tell you a story. A story of how a little young girl sold matches and could see her family in the light, or one of a princess being trapped in a tower. Maybe that of a fish who could  change herself to a woman and fell in love with a fisherman. How about one where a ghoul spoke out riddles to a king and if he could not answer correctly, would fly back and hide with a mischievous glint in his eyes? Stories, have always made you feel at home.

And as you walk by the mall, you see a tiny vending machine. Nope, it doesn’t seem to be giving out cola. Not even those candied sweets which gets stuck in the machine itself. The machine has 3 numbers: 1, 3, and 5. You punch in the ‘ 3’ – better to always be in the middle. And out comes a scroll of paper – with a short story to cheer you up on the gloomiest day.

Okay, none of this actually happened to you. Not unless you are sitting in France. I am in India, and it certainly did not happen here. But I am imagining this is exactly how it must feel when someone walks to the incredible short story vending machines in Grenoble, France.

“Distributeur d’histoires courtes” (“Short-story distributor”) is the machine by Short Editions which churns out short stories. It is the brain child of Isabelle Pleplé, Sylvia Tempesta, Quentin Pleplé and Christophe Sibieude. They were in front of a food vending machine, and they just thought ‘why couldn’t we do the same thing, but with culture and stories’. They then realized a prototype that seduced Grenoble’s mayor when he visited Short Edition’s offices. He decided to launch 8 of these dispensers in Grenoble, in places such as public administrations.

“The idea is to be a community editor of short literature. That means that we have a web platform where anybody can post stories (poems, novels, comics), as long as you can read them in less than 20 minutes,” Short Edition’s communications manager, Manon Landeau said on email. (Yep, I did email them because they have a short story vending machine. How could I not?)

The stories are chosen randomly – you cannot choose if you want xyz writer etc. But probably that is what makes it even more awesome – sort of like having a blind date with a story. You never know what you will get (or for Potterheads, like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans).  Of course, the client who buys it has the possibility to personalize his catalog of stories by choosing the themes he wants to have (humor, slice of life, suspense.)

Currently, with those 30 dispensers spread across the city, they print out around 1,000 short stories every day. One thousand!!! Imagine! But obviously places like the airport have a higher share of prints, because people wait there for longer.

But I would have thought, what with the rapid progress of the Amazons and Flipkarts of the world, book stores are closing down. And then there is this constant complaint about people not reading. (I do not agree one bit. I cannot go a day without reading at least a page. And I have at least 20 friends who are just like that. I would like to say we are still young, and the younger-still community seems to read as well. It depends on what they are exposed to, of course, and whether they are encouraged or not. But they do read – whether it is online, or in printed pages. But here I am going off on a tangent. Pardon.)

It is reassuring to see that Landeau seems to agree in parts: “we think that if today people read less, it is because literature didn’t adapt. When you look at today’s world, everything is going faster because people don’t have time (or at least they think they don’t have). That’s why our aim is to adapt literature to modern world by putting together short literature, technology, and community.”

After all, if it had been a dying art would someone like Francis Ford Coppola (sigh!!!) ever write to them, meet them, and request for a vending machine in his café? I think not!

The man behind super successful and cult films such as Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, New York Stories etc also owns Café Zoetrope in San Francisco and it is here that the first short story vending machine in America has been placed. In Coppola’s words: “I love the idea that it brings. While you are waiting for a bus, or waiting for someone to be done you can push it (the button) and read a story”.

ffc-quentin-a-sf-credit-o-alexandre

It is wonderful to see an idea like this growing and going places. We all know we need stories. And if we are pressed for time, then so be it. Let there be stories which we can fit into our busy schedules.

“We often see people giving each other stories as presents, or children convincing their parents to come with them to press the button” says Landeau. “Nothing could make us more happy that seeing people being pleased to read stories coming from our community. Same thing for the authors who are being read by more and more people. For them, the short story dispenser is a real opportunity to be discovered from people all around the world. And the best in this adventure, is that we regularly receive some message that just say thanks for inventing such a machine.”

 

To you, our knights in bookish armour, may your words spread across the seven seas.

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