THE MACHINE STOPS  by E.M. Forster (1909)

It is remarkable how prophetic E.M Forster’s dystopian short story is.

It is set in a future that seems eerily like our present in which “thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over”.

In the story, the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth.

A woman, Vashti, lives in an underground cell where all her creature comforts are provided by ‘the Machine’.

This centralised system means that direct contact with nature and other people is no longer necessary.

It is as if  Forster foresaw how the Internet would come to dominate our lives to the point that we may come to fear, and even detest, direct experience and physical contact with fellow human beings.

Vashti’s son (“who lived on the other side of the earth”) could be speaking about Skype when he says: ‘I want to see you not through the Machine. I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine”.

If you look and all these other quotes, and substitute ‘the Internet’ for ‘the Machine’,  you get the notion that Forster was onto something:

  • “The Machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people”
  • “The actual essence of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine”
  • “People never touched one another. The custom had become obsolete, owing to the Machine”.
  • “The Machine develops – but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds – but not to our goal”.
  • “The Machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence”.
  • “Progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine”.

The most chilling line sums up all the fears: “there will come a generation that has got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colour-less, a generation seraphically  free from the taint of personality”.

You have been warned!

You can read the story online here or watch a British TV adaptation from the 1960s on You Tube: