The Machine Stops: Did EM Forster predict the internet age?

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  • The futuristic world portrayed in The Machine Stops is an eerily familiar one - people mostly communicate with each other via screens, the rarity of face-to-face interaction has rendered it awkward, and knowledge and ideas are only shared by a system that links every home.


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    Yet that world was imagined not by a contemporary writer but by the Edwardian author Edward Morgan Forster.


    Best known for his novels about class and hypocrisy - Howards End, A Room With A View and A Passage To India - The Machine Stops was Forster's only foray into science fiction.


    Published in 1909, it tells the story of a mother and son - Vashti and Kuno - who live in a post-apocalyptic world where people live individually in underground pods, described as being "like the cell of a bee", and have their needs provided for by the all-encompassing Machine.


    It is a world where travel is rare, inhabitants communicate via video screens, and people have become so reliant on the Machine that they have begun to worship it as a living entity.


    Neil Duffield, who adapted the story for York Theatre Royal's stage, says it is "quite extraordinary" how much modern technology it predicts - and how sharply it observes the effects it will have on users.


    "He predicts the internet in the days before even radio was a mass medium.


    "It would have all seemed so far-fetched back in that time, when people weren't even used to telephones - and that makes it more relevant now than it was in his time - he was anticipating technology like the internet and Skype.


    "And he predicts, with astonishing accuracy, the effect the technology has on our relations with one another, with our bodies, with our philosophy and culture.


    "It's a warning for now for what we might be getting ourselves into."

    'Such insight'

    The play's director, Juliet Forster (no relation), brought the story to Duffield for him to turn into a play.


    She says she became enthralled by it in the late 1980s and "year on year, it's gained more and more relevance".


    "It's so eerily true and resonant. Very quickly I thought it was something that could be very interesting. Although he predicts all that technology, what's more interesting is how human beings react to it - that's what fascinates me.


    "Forster had such insight into human nature and the way we would adapt and lose parts of ourselves through technology.


    "It asks the question about how far we will go in allowing technology to be the thing that we rely on in order to function."


    Read More

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36289890


    And you can Read the book here. It is very short and well worth the read. A superb bit of lockdown reading and food for thought.


    https://www.ele.uri.edu/facult…uff/The-Machine-Stops.pdf


    And if you prefer to listen instead of read a little bedtime story for you.


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    • Official Post

    Fascinating, Nora. Thanks.


    Never read The Machine Stops, so can't say for sure whether he predicted the internet, but it sounds like it. But he sounds like he is talking about AI too and our being slaves to machines and losing humann contact, very interesting. I will add that to my reading list.

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