The Machine Stops

A short story I read on a whim, about a society where the Machine provides for all of Humanity's needs. Sounds familiar?

After reading I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream a year or so ago, I gained quite a bit of appreciation for short stories. They are great! I get a tiny package that can contain quite a bit of good ideas and story-telling, while not requiring a lot of time to be read.

The Machine Stops, by E. M. Forster, was a fantastic short story that blew me away as much as the previously mentioned anthology.

It was published in 1909, and yet it contains one of the scariest, most accurate depictions of what a world dominated by reliance on technology could look like—and one might say, already looks like today.

The story is in the public domain, you can find a free copy of it in Alice & Books’ website, the story can also be found in The Eternal Moment, and other stories which is at Project Gutenberg, I hope Standard Ebooks does their own edition as well soon.

While Orwell’s 1984—published in 1949–deals with a corrupt form of government using surveillance, rewriting history and in a state of constant war; the world in The Machine Stops is honestly kind of perfect—at least on paper.

Humanity lives underground after the atmosphere is no longer inhabitable. There’s an hexagonal room assigned for one person, and everyone gets to live in one, everything can be reached at the press of a button: food, music, films, literature, a bed. There is instant video communication, video conferencing, online shopping.

Ideas, knowledge, cannot, and should not, be obtained from their original source. It is wrong after all, since feelings and experiences only undermine reality and facts.

Physical contact is frowned upon, you don’t visit people in person. Water is hot, the lights are comfortable. You can request to become a parent, you can request euthanasia, but birth and death rates have to stay balanced. No matter, there is no pain anymore, the Machine knows best.

Travelling is mostly unnecessary, but flying machines exist, although everyone closes their windows, nobody wants the Sun shining over them, nobody wants to look down to the old cities and landscapes found in the surface, there are no ideas to be gained there.

I don’t usually talk so much about what a book contains, but this is just the idea and the setting, there is also a story to be told, despite it all being so short, there’s still a lot more. It is an easy read to fly through in a single sitting. I highly recommend it.

The Internet Dies

Literally while writing the review, I stumbled upon Heat Death of The Internet, an article that, if everyone had read this book—and taken it as a warning instead of an instruction manual—probably would not even need to exist, for the problems shown there are quite similar with what we are living today—the Machine is crumbling.

We have our buttons to get food and music and content in the palm of our hand. We have phones and apps and websites as frontends to avoid interacting directly with each other. We have grown used to moving things to us, rather than moving ourselves.

We are fed AI generated websites, removing all humanity and emotion from the information we consume for the sake of “getting to the point”, and all of that is running through another AI to summarize it further more and generate more websites out of it. More and more diluted content, more and more “proper ideas”.

Eventually, time passes, and we no longer resent the defects, getting used to the stinky atmosphere, getting used to the poor writing, getting used to the failing infrastructure, getting used to the darkness.

This is day 35 of #100DaysToOffload and post 3 of #WeblogPoMo2024.


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