E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” reminded me quickly of a Lewis Mumford quote that Red shared in Applications, “The machine itself makes no demands and holds up no promises. It’s the human spirit that makes demands and keeps promises.”
The reading paints a morbid picture of a future in which mankind, in all their efforts to control the world around them, finally succeeds in creating a Machine that in addition to providing all their basic needs for life, also fulfills their every desire with the push of a button. Overtime, people become so desensitized, reliant and paralyzed by this escapist technology, that it essentially becomes their God. With communication advancements, face to face interaction became unnecessary. Advancements in science destroys the uniqueness of different countries on Earth, wiping out the need for travel. Human to human relationships become virtually nonexistent, replaced with only one relationship, between man and machine. And to be without the Machine, was death.
I was excited to find many parallels between the reading and one of my favorite Disney-Pixar films, WALL-E. In the movie, humans are stranded in a large spaceship controlled by an evil automated pilot system, while Earth undergoes a massive restoration initiative. Consumed and constantly surrounded by technology and media and convenience, the humans in the movie have become so obese from being stationery that they have lost the function of their legs. The beauty of WALL-E was its appeal to a range of ages in shedding light on some dark and imminent issues, such as over-consumption, pollution and the sustainability of the planet. E.M. Forster examines these issues further, addressing the loss of free thinking, free will, sense of space and sense of touch, which are privileges and what we (as people living in a free world) agree to be the rights of every human being. Unlike WALL-E’s Disney ending, the story ends as the Machine breaks down and mass chaos and hysteria ensues as humans slowly die, unable to survive without the Machine after being dependent on it for so long. Though somewhat horrific, the irony of the ending is that in dying, humans regain their humanity, and in that their ability to feel and to relate.
Though extreme, the reading succeeds in speaking to me on a personal level and addresses the concerns I have for our Apple-loving society. There are times when I sense myself becoming too attached to technology, namely my MacBook and iPhone, that I realize that I need to take a step back and examine what I truly value. Not the gadgets itself, but the communication and relationships it allows me to upkeep, which in turn will always be secondary to the act of actual physical relating through face to face conversation or touch. To put things into perspective, I will sometimes ask myself, how many books could I have read, or skills could I have taught myself in the time spent watching mindless videos. How many important world events have gone unnoticed, or big ideas lost? Technology is essentially just a tool, although it is not always easy to recognize the dangers of worshiping it. I think this is especially pertinent for me now, as an ITP student, consumed everyday by technology, to keep top of mind. As the quote above implies, it is not the machine, but the human spirit that makes any accomplishment a worthy one.