The Machine Stops

Internet Histories

04.12.2010

The Machine Stops

 


The planet has been devastated. Very little plant life has survived. The air is cold and inhospitable. The human race lives below ground in small cells where every physical need is satisfied by a button or lever.

Communication is by electronic means with video images. It has expanded to such a degree that a single individual may be in contact, electronically, with a thousand people. Life is a series of constant distractions from urgent communications unless one chooses to isolate oneself for a time, after which the problem is to catch up with all the messages that have arrived in the interim.

The central figure, Vishta, never having moved a muscle or seen daylight, is pale and fat, a blob of a person who never leaves her cell with its many comforts and gadgets. Face-to-face communication and direct experiences with other individuals are so unknown that they are unsettling. The citizens of this underground world can travel in airships from one enclave to another, but only out of necessity, not desire, for all places are alike, so there is no point in going anywhere.


 

That’s Nicols Fox’s description of E. M. Forster’s short story The Machine Stops, from her 2002 book Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art and Individual Lives.

Forster’s story was written in 1909, and was adapted by the BBC for an episode of the sci-fi anthology series Out of the Unknown in 1966. In 2009, Nathan and Adam Freise adapted the story into a short film for their thesis project, a still from which appears above.

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