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Thursday, 11 June 2020

The Machine Stops

I had no idea there were so many adaptations of E M Forster's 111-year-old science fiction novella The Machine Stops. These two student film versions, for example (above and below).

Those movies are both quite abbreviated, but at 44 minutes this radio dramatisation does justice to the story:

Or if you want the original Forster prose with no modern trimmings, try the audiobook:

Or you could go full purist (you just know that's my call, right?) and read the thing.

And why now? Because Forster proposes a world of extreme social distancing in which everybody communicates via the Machine (the Internet, basically). He thinks it would become a dystopian nightmare, requiring technological collapse to restore the soul of mankind. The reality is that, like most futures, it may not appeal to us Cro-Magnons but it will be the accepted way of life for those who grow up with it.

Not that we'd ever want to give up all in-person contact, sure, but there are upsides. Our roleplaying games have benefited because we now don’t have to travel across London to get to the game – and that's never a pleasant prospect on a weekday evening. So instead of two and a half hours’ gaming once a fortnight, we can now fit in three or four hours every week. And, pushed online by necessity, I'm hooking up with friends I sometimes don't see for years at a time. Even when the pandemic is really over (spoiler: that's probably not when politicians tell you it is) there are some good habits learned now that will be worth hanging onto.

"Only connect!" as Forster said. If only we could pop back in time and tell him about Skype.

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