The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops is a short story written by Edward Morgan Forster and published in 1909. This story is written as a warning of a dystopian future where people live in tiny pods, interacting with each other only through the machine. The machine provides for everything that one would need or want, with the push of a button. People come to worship the machine. The food provided by the machine is an artificial imitation. There is no need to leave your cell and people seldom do. People are able to instantaneously communicate with any person on Earth as long as the machine permits them to do so. Video conferencing exists but the quality is not the same as having an in person conversation. The access to information as quickly as you can take it has led to people becoming irritable and the ability to communicate with every other person instantaneously has led to all conversations being vapid and shallow. Studies are valued more the more derivative they are, and tangible experience is frowned upon.

I was astounded at how prophetic this book truly was. For perspective the Ford Model T was first wheeled off the assembly line in 1908 and this book was written in 1909. It is also interesting to note which parts Forster got wrong. Giving every person access to these technologies and luxuries does not in fact result in every person giving obscure scholarly lectures in their specialized field of study. Maybe the author was too optimistic in his view of the dark future. I found a pdf version of the book which I can only guess is public domain since it was written in 1909. You can download this pdf here, I thought this one was a really interesting read. At 40 pages, you can read this in an hour or two. The book is long enough to tell a compelling story, but I felt like it could have gone on for a lot longer without getting stale.