E. M. Forster: The Machine Stops
E. M. Forster is best known for his exquisite novels, but this short story brilliantly combine the fantastical with the allegorical, or we would better say, the science fiction message. In "The Machine Stops", humanity has isolated itself beneath the ground, enmeshed in automated comforts, in much the same way as nowadays, where our society is immersed in a digital era in which social networks, electronic devices and sophisticated computers control our lives to such an extent that we do not even realize or we do not want to admit we cannot live without them. What is the price we have to pay for such digital progress? Maybe the answer comes with three more rhetorical questions: Are we more free? Are we becoming a new human species? Are we really prepared as human beings to cope with this digital frenzy? The story consists of only fifty pages where the reader can see himself/herself in one or two decades; but some people are already portrayed in such visionary scenery. But what would happen if this "machine stops", if this "digital era" suddenly stops? Can we survive? Are we ready to live without our "machines" (laptops, mobile phones, computers, etc)
Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An arm-chair is int he centre, by its side a reading-desk -that is all the furniture. And in the arm-chair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh -a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.
An electric bell rang.
'I suppose I must see who it is,' she thought, and set her hair in motion.The chair, like the music, was worked by machinery, and it rolled her to the other side of the room, where the bell still rang importunately.
'Who is it?' she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people; in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously.
But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into smiles, and she said:
'Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes -for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno.
Then I must deliver my lecture on "Music during the Australian Period".'
She touched the isolation knob, so that no one else could speak to her. Then she touched the lighting apparatus, and the little room was plunged into darkness (Extract from E. M. Forster, The Machine Stops, London, Penguin, 2011, pp. 1-2).