11.24.2015

Small Miracles

Many years ago I watched a man punching buttons on a storefront machine in a residential area of Florence. It was an automatic video-cassettes (VHS tapes) vender that operates like a cash machine. He inserted his credit card, read the menu of available videos, requested a brief review of those he was interested in, selected the one he wanted, and hit the button. Bingo it came rolling out the slot. All the videos were visible behind the window of this unattended mini-store. No human intervention. No exchange of cash. No talk or banter about the films. Just the person, the card, and those buttons.

Similar DVD dispensers are now placed in markets, libraries, pharmacies, malls, really almost anywhere. They operate with the same routine—the DVD titles are displayed, with a brief description, and information about the rental costs. You don’t have to download a film on your computer or smartphone, don’t have to wait for one from Netflix or pay a monthly fee for the few films you might like to see. No, all you have to do is head down the block and pick one up at your neighborhood kiosk.

Then there’s vending machines that sell print books. Actually these ingenious devices have been around for a long time. According to John Geohegen (Huffington Post 5/25/13) the first book dispensing vending machine was built by Richard Carlile in England in 1822. He writes, Carlile was a bookseller who wanted to sell seditious works like Paine’s Age of Reason without being thrown into jail. His answer was a self service machine that allowed customers to buy questionable books without ever coming into contact with Carlile. The customer turned a dial on the device to the publication he wanted, deposited his money, and the material dropped down in front of him.

Since then the technology of book vending machines has been modernized so that now there are Book-O-Mats, Readomatics and Biblio-Mats that can be found in libraries, airports, subway stations, etc. Most of the books available on these ingenious gadgets are mass market bestsellers. You don’t find The Dialogues of Plato or The Consolations of Philosophy. For them you have to trek to the library or the ever-popular Amazon website.

An article in The Guardian (11/13/15) on short story vending machines put me in mind of all their forerunners. The article describes the free, short story story from machines in Grenoble, France that can currently be found in its town hall, library, and commuter stations. The co-founder reports that more than 10,000 stories have already been printed.

“The French publisher hopes the stories will be used to fill the dead time of a commute, in a society where daily lives are moving quicker and quicker and where time is becoming precious. In the bus, the tram or the metro, everyone can make the most of these moments to read short stories, poems or short comics. And they can be sure to enjoy the ending.”

All this is well and good, especially the fact that the stories are free. But I wonder how popular they will be for individuals who are already reading on their iPad, Kindle, smartphone or even the fast-disappearing printed book. The same holds for individuals who like to enjoy a quiet moment of reflection or conversation with their friend as they are traveling to their destination.

4 comments:

LindaW said...

"And they can be sure to enjoy their ending." That's enough to frighten me away, whether it means that only a short attention span is required to finish the story or that the characters always live happily every after. Yikes!

I just ordered Vol. 1 of Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (another item on my "bucket list"). Like The Consolations of Philosophy (I love that book), you won't find Gibbon on a best-seller list or in any book-o-matic.

Richard Katzev said...

The stories are meant to be for a short commute. If the endings are enjoyable, all the better. A little enjoyment in life would be refreshing.

LindaW said...

I don't know, Richard. I won't judge or begrudge anyone a few minutes of enjoyment wherever and however one finds it, but I think - as you intimated - for me, just looking out the window and reflecting would work. I enjoyed this post :)

Richard Katzev said...

Yes, looking out the window, day and night can work wonders.