The lockdown, the isolation and the Internet: as a science fiction writer predicted the future 100 years ago

Explorer force on culture and art Gomperz will spoke about the amazing book of 1909, which was read by his wife: in the novel “awesome-spirit-exciting for sure,” described our life in quarantine in 2020. Hereinafter in the first person.

Локдаун, самоизоляция и интернет: как писатель-фантаст предсказал будущее 100 лет назад

Photo: Shutterstock

My wife recently listened to the radio, where one person talked about artificial intelligence. He mentioned the fantastic story of E. M. Forster’s “the Machine stops” which was published in 1909. The words of this man, the novel “extremely visionary”. Neither the wife nor I have not heard.

Frankly, Forster, we do not quoted as science fiction — more like a writer, whose books made films with Helen Bonham Carter in a lush vintage dresses.

We ordered a copy, but you can read it for free online (English only).

OMG! — how hardly would say Forster.

“The machine stops” is not just visionary; it’s awesome-spirit-breathtakingly accurate literary description of our life in quarantine in 2020.

If this story were written today, it would be noteworthy, but the fact that it was written over a hundred years ago is staggering.

The small action of the novel takes place in some futuristic — for Forster, but not for us — the community. People live alone in houses stereotypical (globalization), where they prefer to isolate themselves (his word!); they send messages to each other by pneumatic mail (a prototype electronic or WhatsApp) and communicate to the network via a video interface, wonderfully reminiscent of Zoom or Skype.

“The indigestible system of public gatherings had long been left in the past”, as the author writes, as “an outdated habit of” touching strangers — all this is now forbidden in this new world where people live in underground cells with a computer-type Alexa, fulfilling all their whims.

“Progress Machine”

If you have “zahoroshela” of how everything looks, the better you will be when you learn that the members of this isolated society is familiar with thousands of people through social networks, which are controlled by the algorithm that encourages users to obtain and to pass on some borrowed ideas.

“In some areas of human interaction unheard of so far,” Dole tells us the author is a seer and later adds: “But humanity, in its desire for comfort overestimated their capabilities. It is overdrawn natural resources. Step by step, with his characteristic smugness, it slid into decay, and progress has come to mean the progress of the Machine”.

I forgot that you read it now online on man-made device, which, as we still think we control. But, according to the story of Forster (with whom, it seems, agree some of today’s experts on artificial intelligence), long to be.

We stepped into the scary territory of Frankenstein — one of the literary wonders that we should not ignore.

However, in the story of Forster’s “the Machine stops” will not find the same terrible consequences of scientific progress — this can be judged from the title of the work. But this makes it even more plausible. The two main characters of the story, Vashti and her son Kuno — normal people like you and me. She lives in the southern hemisphere, it is in the North.

Kuno wants his mother came to him, but she is not eager.

“I can see you! she exclaimed. — What are you missing?”

“I want to see you not through the Machine, said Kuno. — I want to talk to you not through this hateful Machine.”

“Oh, be quiet! mother said, slightly frightened. — You can’t say anything bad about the Car.”

The myth of the cave

She prefers social distancing and lectures online on the “Australian Music of the period” is hidden from the eyes of the audience, which absorbs abstract historical information, having absolutely no connection with their real life under ground, except for the fact that it diverts attention from their empty lives (that probably can be compared to online lectures during the lockdown).

I’m not going to retell the story is a very short Novella that can be read in less than an hour, I can only say that this kind of technocratic likeness of Plato’s myth of the cave [of Plato’s dialogues “the State”, book VII].

The car (and for us the Internet) is an airless, do not let the sun’s rays, a single cave in which we exist, and the information she provides is just shadows on the wall.

E. M. Forster published this novel in the period between the appearances of the novels “a Room with a view” (A Room with A View, 1908) and “Howards End” (Howard’s End, 1910) in which he discusses similar philosophical problems relating to the collision of the internal and external worlds, of truth and pretense.

For the first time “the Machine stops” appeared in the periodical the Oxford and Cambridge Review in the same year (1909), in which Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was published in the newspaper “Le Figaro” your violent “Manifesto of futurism” [in the form of paid ads].

Italian poet and writer proclaimed it the opposite of what is told in the visionary novel Forster.

Marinetti welcomed the advent of mechanization, stating that a racing car is best the most beautiful Greek statues [“Racing car, the hood of which, like the fire-spitting snake, is decorated with a large pipe; the roaring machine, the motor which runs on as large of buckshot, she is more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace”.]

In the past, through Marinetti, has outlived itself, it must reject to join in the Future [“Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.”]

He would have loved Vashti, who, flying on aerocaribe to meet Kuno, had curtained window, flying over Greece, because it is not a place where you can find ideas, — is an ironic joke Forster, given that the idea of his novel was born in the Athenian school of philosophy of Plato.

Perhaps the jokes are over in this novel where, in fact, no real human community, no direct experience of anything. It’s impossible to get rid of the constant hum of the Machine without having to ask permission from the Central Committee to receive passes for access to the outside. And for that you wear a respirator — were not.

As the man said on the radio, a visionary novel. And very, very good.