‘Short Edition’ dispenses words of wisdom at Carnegie Mellon University
This vending machine dispenses food for thought.
“Short Edition” is based on the concept of pressing a button and, instead of drinks or snacks coming out, the user receives a story or a poem.
It prints quickly. The paper is biodegradable. It’s available 24 hours a day. There is no charge.
The machine is located inside the Jared L. Cohon University Center, the crossroads building on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland. The interface consists of two buttons: One says “CMU English Department Stories” and the other is labelled “International Work.”
Press the first one, and out spits a text written by someone in CMU’s English department; the other button yields a work by an international author.
Short Edition is the creation of a French company that has placed more than 200 story dispensers around the world. More than 30 have popped up in the United States since the first one was installed in San Francisco in 2016 by Francis Ford Coppola. Penn State University has placed the machines throughout its library system; in Philadelphia, there are machines at Temple University and the Free Library.
The idea to bring Short Editions to Carnegie Mellon came from CMU English professor Andreea Ritivoi, a native of Romania, who saw it on the Facebook page of an international friend. It’s been on campus since April and has been used more than 5,000 times. The machine costs a few thousand dollars, Ritivoi said.
With classes starting Monday for roughly 14,500 students, a new crop of readers will be introduced to the concept. She plans to expand the CMU offerings to include student writing.
Ritivoi said she would love to see one inside Pittsburgh International Airport and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
“When I saw it, I really wanted it to come here,” Ritivoi said. “We hope it inspires people to delve deeper into language. Maybe it will create a discussion or move someone to look up a word or a story or a poet to learn more about the piece they are reading. It may help people think about their own writing.”
Nick Ryan, business manager at CMU’s English Department, reached out to the French company. The writings are stored in the cloud and Ryan can add new stories through a website. He also can access how many people are using it and what time of day they are using it.
“It is interesting because it is both technology and something as basic as words on paper,” Ryan said. “It is in a centrally located space on campus so many new faces will see it. It always has an audience. People have come here just to see this.”
On Monday, Sophia Videva, a senior fine arts animation major at CMU, demonstrated how to use Short Edition to her friend Julia Fraivillig, who was visiting from Smith College in Massachusetts. Videva heard about it from a fellow student. She said another friend printed some out and placed them in bottles for a gift. Videva got a poem by Jane McCafferty, who teaches at CMU, titled “Do You Speak Hafez?”
“I’m eager to read it,” Videva said. “I really like this format.”
Fraivillig pushed both buttons, getting an international story (“Riding the Dragon” by Yoann Berjaud) and another poem from McCafferty, “Grief Is a Tide That’s Going Out.” She appreciated that the project is driven by the English department, which might get people to think more about creative writing.
Ritivoi, the CMU professor, hopes so too. “It’s modeled after a vending machine where you can get something anytime you are hungry for it,” she said. “It’s a surprise, because you don’t know what’s coming out. It’s very nourishing for you.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .