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"The Machine Stops" Analysis

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The Machine Stops_, written by English author E. M. Forster in 1909, is not only revered as a short story on it’s own merit, but increasingly relevant given current concerns about the effect of technology on employment and interpersonal relationships today.To understand Forster’s perspective, it is helpful to understand the social climate in which he lived.In 1909, the Edwardian Era marked by lavish lives of leisure and prosperity had given way to a more liberal shift led by the Labour party.Social, economic and political reform called for by a generation of working class who wanted independence was taking hold.Technology advances in England were being shared with America where the Industrial Revolution and Progressivism was transforming society at an extraordinary pace.Social politics and industry were focused on the issues associated with exponential growth and access to travel and exploration made possible by advances in technology.Women’s suffrage, workers rights and limits on the reach of big business created a dynamic social environment.Forster was in the middle of this extraordinary time of change, and his inspiration for the Machine Stops is easy to understand.He could imagine a time when technology would take over if the trajectory of progress in which he was living continued, and given the unprecedented pace of change and unforeseen impact on society, his dark story likely reflected his real fears.Although, he presents a pessimistic view of over reliance on technology, Forrester would ultimately agree that there is an important place for its advances in a society that craves newness, exploration and efficiency; the caveat being that humans cannot survive in a world of only technology or human connection, of work or play, but, like most things, require an appropriate balance of both.

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Work, by it’s nature, is intended to be a means to an end; advancing society economically and sustaining balanced lives for workers that are fulfilling, enjoyed and healthy.Socially, we are in a constant state of evolution, fueled by curiosity, invention and need – advances in technology make these changes possible and quick. The key to a successful life and a prosperous society, is to achieve balance over time. Technology often provides the bridge to advancement, and people keep pace with those changes byadapting their skills and developing new jobs that didn’t exist before. Historically, we have many examples of adaptations workers have made to compensate for changes in the workplace – the cotton gin, sewing machine, tractors and railways are all age-old examples.Ozimek points out that when human labor is replaced by machines we focus on “learning skills and picking careers that take the new technological landscape into consideration…learning how to better complement machines.” (Ozimek, 2018, p. 1)He explains that our technology trains us to learn new skills, which in turn helps us to keep inventing what we need for better lives – this is most clear in the area of medicine where we are now able to detect and treat disease in a way that couldn’t have been predicted.He even gives a nod to the pace and ingenuity of the industrial revolution, “…artificial intelligence will be training humans much better than humans are trained now. The classroom today is -if not always, very often- a lot like it was 100 years ago.” (Ozimek, 2018, p. 2) Although time marches on, there evidence that the formula for success and prosperity doesn’t change that much – just the perspective with which we view it.

In 1909, there was an imbalance of tremendous growth and economic reliance on technological advancements. Thus, Forster weaves blatant warnings to his readers to not become too reliant on technology, “We created the Machine, to do our will,…it has paralyzed our bodies and our wills…” (Forster, 1909, p.13)The negative impact on the human soul resulting from reliance on machines is his biggest fear and why he wrote this story.His second goal was a reminder of the critical nature of human connection, self-worth and intrinsic value of work.Avent acknowledges that the nature of work is to provide economically for day-to-day living, but also critical to the human experience “…among the most important sources of identity and purpose in individuals’ lives. If the role of work in society is to shrink, other sources of purpose and identity will need to grow. (Avent, 2016, p. 2)Forster appears to be panicked about the loss of human connection, “it has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act…” (Forster, 1909, p. 16)His message is timeless and is evident in today’s culture. People are in constant pursuit of life balance, most recently favoring experiential activities to reconnect with one another.Companies understand that their livelihood depends on happy, satisfied and whole employees which is demonstrated in changing corporate cultures that encourage, even require, time away from work and social activities.

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The lesson Forster intended can be summarized when his character Kuno comes to the realization that “Man is the measure.” (Forster, 1909, p. 17) Humans are curious, driven and capable of constant change; they are, by nature, is in a constant state of evolution. Technology in the workplace allows people to satisfy their hunger for learning and advancement, while providing the tools for them to survive and grow personally and socially alongside what they create. Forster conveys his desperate plea to his readers to not lose site of the importance of balance – technology AND human connection.His message is well taken and worth being revisited regularly.Technology can be a beautiful result of this balance that enables humans to adapt to their environment and in turn evolve to complement those adaptations.Despite his foreshadowing, Forster may have been pleasantly surprised in how people have demonstrated their ability to adapt the changing social and economic landscape with the aid of technology. His message that human connection and lives of purpose are critical to a functioning society and that humans are able to evolve with their own advances has been proven again and again.

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