“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster : Review

Have you heard of this short story? I happened upon it while on Wikipedia reading about the history of the World Wide Web. This dystopian, anti-technology story was written in 1909.

In the preface to his Collected Short Stories (1947), Forster wrote that “‘The Machine Stops’ is a reaction to one of the earlier heavens of H. G. Wells.” In The Time Machine, Wells had pictured the childlike Eloi living the life of leisure of Greek gods whilst the working Morlocks lived underground and kept their whole idyllic existence going. In contrast to Wells’ political commentary, Forster points to the technology itself as the ultimate controlling force. As well as Forster’s predicting globalisation, the internet, video conferencing, and other aspects of 21st-Century reality, Will Gompertz writing on the BBC website on 30 May 2020 said “The Machine Stops is not simply prescient; it is a jaw-droppingly, gob-smackingly, breath-takingly accurate literary description of lockdown life in 2020.” 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops

You can download The Machine Stops and read it for free here. https://blindhypnosis.com/the-machine-stops-pdf-em-forster.html or other places online. It is 48 pages long. People have distrusted new technology since the beginning of the industrial revolution and predicted it would cause the end of the world as we know it and have produced many stories that might be seen as cautionary tales. The amazing thing is how close these books come to the current world scene and how many bad things they have predicted. I plan to read this one next that was written by Mary Shelley but is supposedly based on some prophetic writings she found in a cave. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Man

In The Machine Stops, people must live underground because the air is no longer safe on the surface. A revolution of some type has occurred and destroyed the environment. Over time the people adapted to their new environment of living in a tiny solitary room by no longer wanting to actually see or experience real life. They do not work or create or do anything so they are pale and weak. The machine provides all their needs through mechanical tubes and apparatus. Instead they occupy their time by thinking about ideas and talking and listening to others talk all day long, mostly about the past, through speaking tubes and can even see each other on “blue plates”. Sounds familiar, huh?

The main characters are a woman and her adult son who live in separate hemispheres. Families and communities no longer exist, but people have hundreds of ‘friends’ that they communicate with. She is totally fine with the way her way life is, but he is not. He sneaks up to the surface and nearly dies, but the machine brings him back inside. He tries to tell her how wonderful it was outside and that she is missing out on real life, but she thinks he is crazy. They go their separate ways and the story focuses on her again. A little time passes and the machine has now become a god to the people. Things go from bad to worse.

I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!

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