“Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element – direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine – the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought Lafcadio Hearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution.”
― E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops
The first thing you will notice when reading E.M Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” is how eerily real it seems for a Science Fiction novella. You may even ask yourself “what is all of the hype about machines when they are all around us?” That is because you are reading this book today, 2018, but it was written over 100 years ago! While many hail Wells and Bradbury for their insightful vision into the future, here is Forster describing with inexplicable accuracy a cell phone, the internet, holographic imagery, 3D printers and, most frightening of all, the destruction of the earth due to climate change. Remember, this is prior to the ill-effects of the Industrial Revolution. Ahhh, if only people had read and learned.
In the story we find Vashti, who is sealed in a square room where all of her needs are met with the touch of a button. Air quality, nourishment, entertainment and, most telling of all, communication. Not that she is often bothered with real communication because she doesn’t have time for it. She is too busy punching buttons, moving her information around, reading all that The Machine provides. There is no need for religion any longer – the Machine provides the answer to everything. Long Live the Machine.
Of course, as with anything that man has created, man must also maintain and that includes The Machine. But man, having to do nothing, where even lifting a real book is too strenuous for the atrophied arms, also becomes a bit atrophied and the machine glitches. What will happen to this perfect world then?
While many who read this book are astonished at the degree of technology that Forster created, I was mesmerized by the clarity in which he “predicted” human behavior. People no longer traveled for pleasure – there was no point when pictures on their screens were better, clearer than real life. They no longer actually read books but read what others wrote about the books – aaaahhh, not too different from here, wouldn’t you agree? In the end, they no longer relied on the “truth,” but rather another person’s version of the truth – even yet, the more interpretations of an event, the better. After all, an eyewitness to an event might actually be too easily influenced by the event itself. Perhaps the politicians of today actually did the novella and that is where they got the idea of “fake news,” for what is Facebook and other social media outlets if not the re-telling of the story through multiple sources?
Sadly, the story – like real life – does not end well. I cannot help but wonder if anyone who reads the book today sees the reality of their own fate on these pages. What happens to mankind when The Machine Stops?
This is a short novella; it took me a few hours to read at the most. I encourage you to download it – it is available for free from multiple sources. It truly is remarkable.