Smartphones help millions of people to while away the daily commute, whether with music, social media, news apps, or podcasts. But from this week, workers in London have another way of passing the time — with short stories grabbed from a vending machine.
Three such machines have been installed in the city’s busy office district of Canary Wharf, each one offering thousands of different short stories that take around one, three, or five minutes to read. Written by famous authors past and present, the stories are printed out on slips of eco-friendly papyrus paper and are free to all, according to the Canary Wharf Group, which installed the machines.
One of the contributors is author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, best known for his Alex Rider spy novels. His whodunnit, titled Mr. Robinson, was penned especially for the so-called “Short Story Station” vending machine and is the shortest piece of fictional work he’s ever written.
“I’ve always loved the challenge of the short story, creating a whole world in just a few pages, so I was very happy to write Mr. Robinson for Canary Wharf’s brilliant new Short Story Stations,” Horowitz said. “Here’s a whodunnit, complete with suspects and clues, that can be started and finished in just a minute. I hope it will entertain tube travelers who will know, at least, that they won’t have the frustration of having to get off before the end.”
The vending machines are the creation of French firm Short Édition and have been installed in several other countries, including France, the United States, and Hong Kong.
The Canary Wharf Group was prompted to try the machines after its own research revealed that more than 53 million books go unfinished every year in the United Kingdom because people “can’t find the time to reach the final chapters.”
The research found that 36 percent of Brits have given up on at least one book in the last 12 months because of a lack of time, while 30 percent admit it’s been more than six months since they last completed a book.
Lucie Moore, head of arts and events at the Canary Wharf Group, said: “We’re all guilty of saying we’re too busy, but our research found that a staggering 70 percent of us would rather get lost in a good book than get lost down the rabbit hole of social media.”
Moore added: “Our Short Story Stations provide the perfect digital antidote — a return to analog scrolling. We hope Anthony’s brilliant new work helps people to fall back in love with short stories.”
Another somewhat offbeat vending machine that appeared for Londoners recently is one that lets you do your laundry.