February 03, 2005

"The Machine Stops"

I was surprised (in a good way mind you) when I read The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. As soon as I saw that the story is twenty-some pages when printed out, I thought, “What sort of story is this? What happened to London’s short little ones?” Not that I think twenty pages is a lot to read (I am an English major after all. I’m used to reading) but I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to read it since my schedule has been pretty full. However the story went quickly. Very quickly. The writing was easy to understand as Chris also noticed and I honestly enjoyed it, although I don’t usually like technology tales.

Another aspect I was amazed at was the time “The Machine Stops” was written. With all of the sophisticated technology mentioned one would assume it was composed sometime late in the last century. The 60s, 70s, or 80s. Yet Forster wrote “The Machine Stops” in 1909. That’s right, 09. I can’t even imagine thinking of all that technology back then when they barely had electricity and telephones (or maybe they did. I’m not great at history. Either way, you see where I’m going with this).

A strong Biblical element is also in the story. The Book of the Machine is worshiped as dearly as the Bible. The Machine itself acts almost as a separate religion. Words such as “sin”, “heavenly”, and “divine” are used to describe the relationship between man and the Machine. Perhaps the inhabitants have transformed the Machine into a god since their religions were wiped out years before. Humans of most every culture in all lands have created religions throughout the years. It seems part of our nature to have a “higher being” to worship. When regular religion is destroyed, humans just invent another, no matter how far fetched.

The Machine also seems like “Big Brother” to me. It controls all, it knows all. You mess with it and you are homeless. The purpose of the machine could be the governments’ way of controlling all the people in the world before they revolt of become dangerous as in the past.

I could surely go on. “The Machine Stops” has several elements in it that can be analyzed in great detail. Yet not here, not now. Let’s see what everyone else has to say…

Posted by VanessaKolberg at February 3, 2005 10:11 PM | TrackBack

Vanessa, your experience was very similar to mine. This was written long before commercial radio or air travel, yet the description of Vashti's shallow "online" friendships and the way the outside world presses on her after she has been "isolated" for a few minutes reminds me of the e-mails and answering machine messages that pile up when I return to my office after spending some time in the real world.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at February 4, 2005 10:35 AM

I really like the theological statements about the destructiveness of putting such non-transcendant values first.

Posted by: Evan at February 4, 2005 07:18 PM

As per class today- big negative on the Big Brother thing. Eh, can't win them all.

Posted by: Nessa at February 4, 2005 11:39 PM

I have used Forster's story in several courses
(SOS 120 Science/Technology/Democratic Society;
HIS 180 Utopia and Experimental Communities; and
HIS 100 The Rise of the West---a conventional Western Civilization survey from 1500 to the present)I have taught over the past 30 years at
Broome Community College. Students continue to
remain stunned about Forster's prescient vision
of a technological future with unintended consequences. Technology like capitalism is a
form of creative destruction. And its unintended
consequences continue to haunt modern civilization.It is not surprising that Plato has
a nocturnal council determine what new technologies should be developed or abandoned.
The elders of the Amish make periodic reviews and
rulings---both were interested in promoting social
stability---rightly or wrongly each has understood
that technology is ultimately subersive of most
social/political/ecnomic orders---even Marx understood its role as a catalyst with respect to
the driver force of the economic substructure.
Few recent American presidents have said much about this element of technology except the current Bush whose oposition to stem cell research
and support for "intelligent design" is well known. It is also interesting that in his presidency the Office of Technology Assessment came to an abrupt end. Would modern democracies
have the courage to confront the issue of a
dynamic technologies that are far more potentially disruptive than Osma Bin Laden---also
note how this "conservative/fundamentalist" is willing to selectively use some of the most modern
technology to defeat/destroy the very culture that
created it----but then too, this was also a key
feature of the Hitler dictatorship which was
obsessed with its revolt against modernity only to
use the technology of modernity to destroy it.

Posted by: doug garnar at November 8, 2005 08:43 PM
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