Reading for pleasure is at an all-time low in the United States. A recent government report revealed Americans read for fun about 17 minutes each day. And the percentage of Americans indulging in leisure reading on any given day dropped by nearly 30 percent between 2003 and 2017.
One solution to our short attention spans and even shorter spurts of free time are short stories. They are low commitment and high gratitude, and can transport readers to far-flung places.
In a corner of the South Philadelphia Free Library, there's now a vending machine for literature. Think of it as tales to go, reports "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Dana Jacobson.
With the press of a button, users select a story that takes either one, three or five minutes to read. Within seconds, the cylinder spits out a modern-day papyrus scroll.
"What I love about this project is that it gives us something a little bit old, a piece of paper … to have that tactile moment," said Andrew Nurkin, deputy director of enrichment and civic engagement at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
"It uses a really interesting new technology, the kind of ATM machine of short stories, to make it delightful and joyful at the same time," said Nurkin, who helped bring the kiosks to the Philadelphia library.
In an effort to promote literacy, Philadelphia is one of four American cities -- Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kansas; and Columbia, South Carolina being the others -- installing the short-story ATMs in public libraries.
There are 35 dispensers in various locations across North America and 180 worldwide.
"Any minute that you can spend … engaging with the written word is advancing literacy," Nurkin said. "And if it brings joy just for that minute or five minutes, that's great."
The joie de vivre comes courtesy of French company Short Edition, which makes the machines and manages a catalog of more than 100,000 stories.
The tales vary in tone and style. And they are free -- as well as guilt-free. The paper is environmentally friendly, according to Nurkin.
"The ink is biodegradable," he said "So it's environmentally conscious … and certainly recyclable."
Film director Francis Ford Coppola, the godfather of the short-story ATMs, brought the first American dispenser to his café in San Francisco in 2016.
"I love the idea of a vending machine, a dispensing machine that doesn't dispense potato chips or beer or coffee for money, but gives you art," Coppola said.
If you want your own short story to come out of the ATMs, you may soon get your chance. In September, the Public Library Association will launch a national writing contest to encourage budding authors and amateurs to add their voices to the dispensers.