The Machine Stops by E M Forster

A brilliant and unsettling short story about a dystopian (all futures are ‘dystopian’, it seems, nowadays) future where humanity lives under the earth in an artificial environment controlled and sustained by ‘the Machine’. The Machine takes on a divine role for humanity, which exists in a wholly intellectualised state, endlessly giving and receiving lectures. It is asserted that the more a subject is understood through the interpretation and analysis of others, the higher the level of understanding: “First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand for then they will be removed from that disturbing element – direct observation.”

This seems to be a caricature of Platonic ideas of the life of contemplation of the Good as the highest form of human fulfilment. Except most of the Good has been lost.

I can’t help but be reminded of the internet and the way in which the society I live in is now so dependent on it. If the internet – ‘the Machine’ – stops, many things we take for granted will stop, too. I propose that everybody read this short story and think about that possibility.


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