Em Forster’s novel »the machine stops summary « is a dystopian science-fiction story first published in 1909, which draws a frighteningly fitting picture of our times with its visions. The machine is a globally networked supercomputer to which people are completely subordinate. When they have forgotten what nature is and are no longer able to do even the simplest things themselves, the system gradually collapses. Forster’s warning against an uncritical attitude to such technical dogmatism is relevant to every human being of our time. In addition, the narrative stimulates an important reflection process.
History of The machine stops
In 1909, a year after Edward Morgan forester’s third novel »room with a view« (original title: »a room with a view«), his dystopian narrative »the machine stands« appeared for the first time under the original title »the machine stops« in the November issue the oxford and Cambridge reviews magazine (as well as the 1928 narrative book the eternal moment and other stories). But it was not until late that the story of the then thirty-year-old author received the recognition it deserves. After being voted one of the best stories of all time in 1965, “the machine stands down,” she became part of the popular modern short stories anthology in the same year and became the 1973 anthology for the science fiction hall of fame selected to compile the best science fiction stories of all time. Only recently has the story been rediscovered by readers in English-speaking countries.
Edward Morgan forster, born January 1, 1879 in London, is one of England’s most important writers of the 20th century. Novels such as “howards end” (original title: “howards end” / filmed by james ivory with Emma Thompson , Anthony Hopkins , helena bonham carter and vanessa redgrave in the lead roles), “room with a view” (original title: “a room with a view also filmed by james ivory with maggie smith , helena bonham carter, julian sands, and daniel day-lewisin the leading roles) or »journey to india« (original title: »a passage to india« / the filming was the last work of old master david lean ) are classics of the modern age. His debut novel “angels fear to tread” (original title: “where angels fear to tread”) was developed by charles sturridge with helen mirren , helena bonham carter, judy davis and rupert graves filmed in the lead roles. In his novel “maurice” (again a film by james ivory with james wilby , hugh grantand rupert graves in the lead roles) he treated the at that time taboo subject of homosexuality. Forster kept the novel, which appeared only posthumously, for almost half a century secret.
Forster, a member of the famous bloomsbury group for a time and awarded the british order of merit, died on june 7, 1970 in coventry, england.
the us computer scientist jaron lanier said »the story the machine stops , published in 1909 – that is, decades before the first computers existed – is probably the earliest and probably most accurate description of the internet today. How em forster did that remains a mystery. ”
Of course, the fascination of the story goes straight from this mystery for us. When forster in the beginning of the 20th century warned against too much technical euphoria, he remained for the most part misunderstood. But today, with people chatting together, sitting opposite each other in the restaurant, photographing their food instead of really seeing the world around them, it could hardly be a more appropriate description of our world. Nobody can deny the central role internet and mobile phone play in most people today.
“the machine stops” raises questions that no one likes to ask. Who would still be able to navigate the world without internet for a month or forever? To what extent should culture replace nature and how can man lead a self-determined life if he surrenders himself to such a machine? After all, the way in which our data is collected through the internet is very similar to the machine’s information masses. The machine watches over everything. But we should read “the machine stands still” as a warning, because the story shows what can happen when people reveal too much of themselves.
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Em forster’s only science fiction story “the machine stops” is a visionary warning against any dogmatic faith in technology and a plea for the courage to challenge fixed pattern, different and above all himself to think and question everything. That is why this short text is an important read today, which should be a compulsory program in all schools.