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Reaction to EM Forster’s “The Machine Stops”   Leave a comment

What a fascinating short story to re-visit, this in an age where technology is so ubiquitous as to kindle and maintain a recurring debate on whether we are being brought closer together or driven further apart as a species. Add to this the recent surge in popularity of “Steampunk” culture (though more inspired by Verne than Forster), and we have a uniquely tinted mirror to hold our Western social milieu up to.

The world Forster creates is one in which the modern world could very well be on a path toward. It becomes increasingly easier to bring the knowledge, comforts, and relationships of the world and it’s people into one’s own domicile. Trips to the library, the grocery store, a friend’s house, etc. have all become unnecessary in our age, but there is one fatal mistake I believe Forster makes in his imagining of this future dystopia.

The human race’s capacity for empathy, and it’s need for human contact and copulation, are so ingrained as to never be obliterated from any society. It’s been shown, at least anecdotally, that other mammals, but especially primates, are capable of empathetic gestures, that is, things or services given willingly to others without the understanding of direct reciprocity. I believe this tribal behavior is written into our DNA, and the human race could not possibly organically grow to prefer an isolation of the sort Forster creates.

Not to mention that sex is so much god damn fun! Unless this takes place thousands and thousands of years in the future (not likely since infrastructure from the “former” civilization still exist), there is no way that these genetic traits could be trained out of humans by artificial selection, as indicated in the story.

We are certainly in danger of becoming so self-referential as a society, that original ideas are no longer deemed to be useful, that subsequent distillation of knowledge distorts that knowledge to the point of uselessness. But then again, as new events transpire, new experiences translate into new types of knowledge – and so the human condition keeps perpetuating itself into….oh shoosh, there I go rambling again.

Some quick notes on the above – no one person knows how to make a toaster (except this guy,) that is, knowledge has been so dispersed that we must simply trust the hive-mind to continue with new forms of technology. Let’s not allow this to spiral too much out of our control.

Interesting to note that the first thing that goes wonky in “The Machine” is the music. Even in a future dystopia, they always cut the arts department first. 🙂


Posted September 15, 2010 by Michael Colombo in Uncategorized

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Posted September 15, 2010 by Michael Colombo in Uncategorized