E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”
Technology is no longer a matter of luxury, and humans depending on technology for survival is no longer a notion of science fiction. It has come to pass – we depend on technology for every aspect of life – communication, medicine, hygiene, recreation. Forster predicts this dependence, and portrays technology’s effect on humans as debilitating, fear-inducing, and a factor that removes all spontaneity and sensual qualities from life. Vashta has no desire to hug her son, to look at a beautiful landscape, or to take a walk in the sun.
While reading “The Machine Stops”, I was struck by how much I was comparing his 1909 prediction of the futuristic world to what the world is like today. “The Book” reminds me of an i-pad, or any video-chat capable touch-screen phone with internet access.
Forster’s prediction of technology’s capability to enable people to connect instantly is on par. However, I hope that, contrary to his prediction that it will drive everyone underground, advancing technology will enhance humans to physically transport faster. People are concentrating in urban areas, and technological advancements to enhance surface transportation and urban planning is crucial.
“The Machine Stops” is one of many examples of fiction predicting the future. Another one that I love and comes to mind is William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”.
I listened to an interesting piece on Science Friday on NPR a few weeks ago, in which Ira Flatow spoke to Michael and Denise Okuda, the lead graphic designers of Star Trek, and John Underkoffer, the science advisor on Minority Report, about how scientists and technology developers might actually use fiction for design ideas. For example, they mention a motion sensor device, as in “Minority Report”, or flip-phones and touch screens, as in Star Trek.