Hari Patience-Davies explores Canary Wharf’s automated short story dispenser.

I dropped into one of the underground malls in Canary Wharf on the 1st day of 2022 and was pleasantly surprised to see this display in the middle of the hallway.

It promised a short story it would take you either 1, 3 or 5 minutes to read and I was delighted when at the push of a metaphorical button (i.e. waving your hand over a Covid-safe sensor) ‘Twas the night before Christmas (under its official title of A visit from Saint Nicolas) spooled out of the dispenser. This was the 3 minute option. The 1 minute request provided the poem The Snowflake Tree by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, while the 5 minute was the short prose story The Little Fir Tree by Sara Cone Bryant.

Unsurprisingly all the stories provided are solidly out of copyright – I wasn’t paying for them so shouldn’t have expected anything new – but it was a charming distraction while wasting time waiting for our electric hire car the charge.

I just wish it could have spat out a picture book equivalent, as even the most beautiful words aren’t enough to hold the attention of my 4 year old for more than a few minutes.

Though I will admit it was a lovely idea – and it felt like it would be a perfect fit for locations such as airports or train stations. Especially if, rather than printing out the stories like overly long supermarket receipts, it could maybe airdrop them to your device or print a QR code you could then use to access later.

Here in 2022 I guess we really are starting to live in the future.


All photos by Harriet Patience-Davies.

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