Back in the day, commuters would pass their transit time toiling over the New York Times business pages or taking the daily crossword puzzle challenge on their subway rides to and from Manhattan and Long Island.
Before minivans, kids would spend hours doing Mad Libs word games and calling out license plates while wedged into overstuffed station wagons. These road trips often felt like cross country trips but were often much shorter in distance and yet allowed time for creative thought and introspection.
There was a time when books were read, shared, and read again. People read the newspaper and passed it along. Short stories or bound novels would keep readers interested for short runs or distracted for hours. Library books sometimes saw late fees not because you "forgot" but simply one was so caught up in the reading.
...Then the smartphones came along. Users now amuse themselves for hours watching funny videos, taking and sharing photos, and not calling but still checking to see if their friends are in fact still their friends and agree and like what they are doing.
Now travelers throughout many of France’s train stations have easy access to vending machines that offer short printed stories for their commutes. Similar kiosks in the New York subway system offered free downloadable stories to e-readers for passengers to read on their next ride.
If you find yourself in a French train station and are waiting for your next departure, look for the orange and black kiosks with the “short-edition” logo on it and receive a free short story, on paper, that may take between one and five minutes to read. Take a few to go and distract yourself from the distraction that is your cell phone.
Conde Naste Traveler reports that readers can choose from humor, horror and romance and include a database of up to 5,000 anonymously submitted short stories. As of October 2016 there were over thirty dispensers located at stations throughout the country. Currently all stories are offered in French only, it being in France, of course. Recently a dispenser was added in New York and we assume stories offered there are written in the English language, but I haven’t yet been able to verify if that is true, nor at which station the dispenser is located.
In New York City, Penguin Random House offered a similar but downloadable reading option called Subway Reads last summer but I have not been able to verify its continued availability. As a promotion to expand wi-fi access underground throughout the metropolitan subway system this reading promotion was temporarily extended to riders of the subway. My guess is that more people are now back talking on their phones while in transit than are reading but we can be hopeful, at least until the wi-fi goes out again.
Let me know if anyone sees any of these machines in their travels. I’m curious from the business side as much from the geography side how it’s working out. Let me know how the distraction of reading from paper was enough to inspire more reading. It’s impressive that there are people out there submitting stories and reading stories and hope they continue contributing to this art form.
I learned long ago to have something worth reading, whether you are standing in line at the DMV or stuck on a train or an airplane. Unless you have a window seat and can enjoy the passing countryside, curl up with a good book while you have time.