Free Short Story Dispensers Mean People in One Town Will Never Be Bored Again

A woman chooses a short story at a short-story distribution terminal in the Mistral district of Grenoble, on October 12, 2015. The city of Grenoble is testing the invention of a local start-up and recently installed the terminal, which delivers free reading material to people waiting in public spaces. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PERRE CLATOT (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images

Most book lovers know the importance of always keeping a book or e-reader tucked in your bag wherever you go, just in case — and the horror of forgetting, only to be left stranded with nothing to read. But it seems there might be a new solution for this predicament: The town of Grenoble in France is installing free short story dispensers, machines that print short stories on demand. It's like vending machines except with something even more important than food. And yes, they're free. Now you don't have to pretend you're fiddling around on your phone when you're waiting for someone.

The town, which is in the French Alps in the southeastern part of the country, is installing a total of eight machines in public areas of town, such as the town hall, the tourist office, and town libraries. The stories will be printed on long paper, much like receipts, and people will be able to select what length of story they want — one minute, three minutes, or five minutes. There are already over 600 possible stories, all from the new French publisher Short Editions, which came up with idea. 

"The city was on board from the beginning," Short Editions co-founder Quentin Plepé said. "What they really liked was the fact that the dispensers distribute culture though the city in an original way."

And two years after the idea was first proposed, the dispensers are now finally at work, providing citizens with culture on demand. 

Nowadays, when people have a few minutes of boredom or alone-time, the first instinct is usually to reach for our smartphones to entertain us; having printed short stories available provides people with a possible alternative, though the creators say they don't have any sort of vendetta against smartphones. But it's nice to have a non-screen alternative. 

"Stories are an important part of our life," Plepé explained. "We need them to construct who we are as individuals. More and more people don't take the time anymore to sit and read a book. This is a way to have a little 'bite' of a story, just for a couple of minutes."

Of course, the question of what happens to all these printed stories once people are done with them remains. The town of Grenoble has a reputation for being eco-friendly, but printing potentially hundreds or thousands of slips of paper designed to be read once isn't the most ecologically sensitive thing to do. Plus, it creates potentially a lot of trash.

So will these stories wind up littering the bottom of our purses the way store receipts do? Will there be recycling bins around to collect them? Will they just end up as litter? 

Well, all that remains to be seen, but the idea of dispensing free short stories to keep people entertained is still pretty excellent. After all, couldn't we all use a bit more culture in our lives?

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