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the machine stops

E.M. Forster, not exactly known for science fiction, wrote an interesting short story called 'The Machine Stops' (first published in 1909), depicting a future society eerily like our own Internet age.

Humankind has moved underground, where everybody lives in isolation but in constant contact with one another through a kind of lo-fi videoconferencing. Meanwhile, the Machine takes care of all creature comforts.

...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!

Instead, man's highest aspiration is to have ideas, though preferably not original ones.

'Beware of first-hand ideas!' exclaimed one of the most advanced of [the lecturers]. 'First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live 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 far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation.'

And soon, people start to worship the Machine. But as the title foreshadows, the Machine does not last. When it stops, mankind has become so decadent by generations of its pampering presence that few survive...

She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her - it did kill many thousands of people outright. Ever since her birth she had been surrounded by the steady hum. It was to the ear what artificial air was to the lungs, and agonizing pains shot across her head. And scarcely knowing what she did, she stumbled forward and pressed the unfamiliar button, the one that opened the door of her cell.

Complete text available here.

Update: There's a 1966 British television adaptation of 'The Machine Stops', the full video is online. It's very oldschool sci-fi, but it contains some interesting imagery...

The Machine Stops - 1

The Machine Stops - 2

The Machine Stops - 3
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a sample of blocks

In the short Dutch novel "Blokken" ("Blocks") by Ferdinand Bordewijk , the main character is the State, a communist totalitarian regime. The State forbids any individualism, hence the story has no individual characters. Except in one … Read the full post »

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