Written in 1909
I want this fact to sink in: 109 years ago, E.M. Forster sat down to write a science fiction short story. In it he envisioned a world of people living underground after ‘something’ makes living above ground unnecessary. We are not told what that something is, but in the present time that could be a nuclear war.
The Machine is their whole world, and in time becomes worshipped for its omnipotence. But some of the residents want to explore the world that exists outside the Machine. They are threatened with ‘homelessness’ if they persist, and the equipment to allow this exploration is abolished. But then the Machine begins to break down.
The thing that always amazed me, when I first read this story in 1969, was the vision that Forster had of instant/distant communication. Since the 1990’s when the Internet was ‘invented’ and cell-phone technology became capable of allowing face-to-face conversations between people living in different parts of the world, we have become more connected to others, while becoming more isolated in our little lives.
Just yesterday, I reminded my wife’s grandson that there have been times in the recent past where technology has temporarily failed to delivery its promise of improving our lives. Take the ‘blackout’ of 2003, for example. Due to a series of ‘fails’ a huge area of Ontario and the Northeast States lost all their electrical power for at least 6 hours, some places for far longer.
I suggested to him that a similar breakdown of technology could send us back to an earlier time when we were more self-sufficient. His 20-year-old reaction was typical: we’ll just ride it out until everything is restored. But, I suggested, what if it’s never restored?
World War III
Starting as far back as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, we have all been under threat of nuclear war. Recently, even North Korea has rattled its missiles at us. And for the first time in all these years, we have at least two very ‘unstable’ individuals with their thumbs on nuclear buttons. It is all very precarious, but most people would prefer to ignore the threat of annihilation so that they can sleep peacefully in their beds at night.
“When The Wind Blows“ showed us that survival of a nuclear war is practically impossible. But Susan’s grandson says that we’ll just go somewhere safe underground until the whole thing blows over. Which brings me back to the point of this post:
We are so programmed into maintaining life, at all costs, that we forget that we are already immortal. We cannot die, but like a gamer in a simulation, we get another life, and another life, and another life, until…
The Machine Stops.