Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Overview of Sci-Fi short Story, "The Machine Stops"

"The Machine Stops"
Source: TheMachineStopsFilm.wordpress.com
In this futuristic short story by E.M. Forster, humanity no longer resides on the surface of the Earth, but far below. The air above is unable to sustain life (or so everyone is led to believe). Human action, need, and desire are guided by the Machine: a super computer that caters to a person’s every wish. Need a hot bath? There’s a button for that. Need to give a lecture about Australian music? There’s a button for that.
Sameness is like a disease that has spread across civilization. Every room in every part of the underground Earth looks the same, everyone speaks the same language and feels the same sort of god-like worship for the Machine. The goal of the people is to eventually ‘be free from the taint of personality; live colorlessly’. Living underground requires certain characteristics, so those babies that are born with athletic traits are euthanized, as an athletic person would never be content with a life of solitary confinement. When people want to visit, they do so via cinamotrophes (3-D images of each other, like video chat). To see someone physically over a great distance, people travel by air-ships. The thought of touching one another or seeing daylight is abhorrent.
Vashti is a conformist, of the highest degree. However, her son, Kuno, has discovered that humanity has lost touch with each other, and with Nature. He visits the surface (without permission from the machine), and supposedly encounters others. Vashti is embarrassed that her son would go against the Machine, and both of them know that his actions will mean his eviction from his room underground (meaning, he will be forced to live above-ground, which will kill him).
Kuno does not care that he will be Homeless. He is passionate about what he experienced on the surface: “"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 was 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 paralyzed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it.”
After Kuno’s unscheduled visit to the Earth’s surface is made known to others, above-ground visits are made illegal. Another change is the re-instatement of religion (before it was thought to be perverse to be spiritual in any capacity). The religion that forms is based around the love of the Machine, and its all powerful knowledge and applications.
Themes in this story are plentiful. To begin with, man has lost touch with being an individual. The idea of conformity is one of comfort and pleasure. To be different is dangerous and unheard of. Another theme is man’s acquiescence to technology and the risks and rewards behind that. Technology in the story serves man’s every need so that the people begin to pray to it, considering it a divine being (though they acknowledge time and time again that it is a man-made structure). Is it right to worship something simply because it provides for you, even if it is clothing you, feeding you, keeping you safe? Do those conditions create the need for a spiritual connection?
There is an theme in the story that really resonated with me, and that is man’s ignorance to the past. People perpetuate traditions, habits, and cultural norms without knowing why (often without caring why. The narrator states “Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It had exploited the riches of nature too far. Quietly and complacently, it was sinking into decadence, and progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine.”
Once the Machine stops, society breaks almost instantly. People are used to being taken care of, and they do not know how to exist without the thrum of the Machine, and all that it provides for them. As humans equally dependant on technology, I wonder how quietly (or loudly) we would fade after our Machines stopped. 

No comments:

Post a Comment