It may be short, but E.M Forester's science fiction tale "The Machine Stops" is no less relevant or, dare I say, clairvoyant. Written in 1909 when there were still more horse drawn carriages on the road than automobiles, Lincoln was still President and the concept of the radio was still a castle in air, the predictive E.M. Forester was taken more for a nut than a visionary. However, over 100 years down the bumpy road of technology, "The Machine Stops" reads more like a modern day cautionary tale than it does a sci-fi classic. Here are a few excerpts from the 1909 text. Read 'em and weep (for the future that is).
"The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well."
(YES, 100 years ago, before a computer had even been discussed or thought about, E.M. was inventing SKYPE in the pages of his novelette)
"And of course she had studied the civilization that had immediately preceded her own - the civilization that had mistaken the functions of the system, and had used it for bringing people to things, instead of for bringing things to people. Those funny old days, when men went for change of air instead of changing the air in their rooms!"
"Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over."
"People never touched one another. The custom had become obsolete, owing to the Machine."
"Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him; he would have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills against which he might measure his body. Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not?"
"It was naked, humanity seemed naked, and all these tubes and buttons and machineries neither came into the world with us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter supremely while we are here."
"Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it...and if it could work without us, it would let us die."
"Those who still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to listen to some gramophone, or to look into some cinematophone."
"No one confessed the Machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence. The better a man knew his own duties upon it, the less he understood the duties of his neighbour, and in all the world there was not one who understood the monster as a whole."
"It was otherwise with the failure of the sleeping apparatus. That was a more serious stoppage. There came a day when over the whole world the beds, when summoned by their tired owners, failed to appear. It may seem a ludicrous matter, but from it we may date the collapse of humanity."
"But there came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended."
'She crawled over the bodies of the dead. His blood spurted over her hands.'
"Oh, tomorrow - some fool will start the Machine again, tomorrow."
"Never," said Kuno, "never. Humanity has learnt its lesson."
Nostradamus; eat your precognitive heart out.
writing, in fear of the machine and under the influence,