Class Discussion of “The Machine Stops”

We are continuing our  class discussion of “The Machine Stops” online this week. The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help us all think critically about this short story. Therefore, your comments need not be very long, and there are a number of ways to approach/contribute to this discussion. For example:

  • you can provide a quote/citation and a few sentences of explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question
  • you can raise questions
  • complicate issues
  • extend discussions
  • analyze a character, or setting, etc.
  • discuss central conflicts/values/themes (especially in relation to the Science Fiction Framework)
  • you can make connections to contemporary society (a lot of you mentioned parallels to our own society/lives in your blogs)
  • and/or feel free to discuss the various short film versions of the story that are assigned for/will be discussed in class on Tuesday (9/6)
  • anything else you believe would add value to the discussion of this text

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citations) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger point.  In you are discussing outside sources (e.g., films or your contemporary/personal examples), though, make sure to discuss them in relation to the original source text (the Forster short story), and how that particular adaptation or contemporary parallel helps us to understand (or complicate) certain aspects of the story.

You should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Wednesdsay 2/8. Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments in response by Friday 2/10. Of course, more comments (and extending the conversation beyond Friday) is always welcome, and you should make sure to return to the Class Discussion even after you made your required comments to check in, see what has been added since you posted, and continue being engaged with what’s happening.

14 thoughts on “Class Discussion of “The Machine Stops”

  1. My analysis of the setting:

    When I first started reading the narrative, the setting and the functions that took place with in that one setting was very confusing to me. For example every time Vashti willing went into isolation like it was an enjoyable thing, I kept thinking why does she LOVE isolation so much? But as I go deeper into the story, I learned that the honey comb like rooms that the people stayed in weren’t like bedrooms or living rooms, they were their whole lives squeezed into one spot. They conducted studies there, communicated there without physical human interactions, eat, slept, everything there.

    Then I understood why she loved isolation, the same way I would enjoy going out ,she enjoyed isolation. In our society going out is seen as the proper thing to do, people who normally like isolation are looked at as usual ( not saying that’s 100% true. We all need isolation sometimes) . But in Vashtis society their rooms were socially the acceptable and expected place to be. If you enjoyed traveling out of the room often, you would be the one seen as different.

    I found that really interesting.

    • The culture of this underground civilization revolves around the fact or assumption, as it is somewhat unclear in the story, that the surface of the earth is a cancerous wasteland that will kill you. The reason I don’t walk into a construction site is the same reasoning. Although the story takes it to an extreme, this is what defines a culture and society. What do these people believe? Remember that these people are theoretically living in a utopia where everything is taken care of, and I would like to emphasize the word “theoretically” here. Why smash the system when the system has no problems? Why explore the unknown when there is no reason to?

  2. In “The Machine Stops” the underground society depends on The Machine to help them live their lives. Will a period in our future come, in which our society might also depend on technology to help us live our lives?

  3. When I read The Machine Stops by E.M Foster there are several things i noticed and made me question the story. I had to read several pages at least twice. For instance, the first page I read twice because I could not wrap my mind on how this room they all live in and this machine they all have can provide everything for them . This somewhat reminded me of the animation film “Wall-E” where all the humans sit on this chair and have everything brought to them . If you watch the film humans loose body movement and become very obese . They supposedly can not live on earth because of how severely polluted it is. Another thing I noticed there’s lack of skin Pigmentation especially when Vashti is being describe. She is very white and pale due to no contact with the sun. Even when Vashti comes close to contact with the sun she screams like a vampire terrified of the sun and quickly moves away. Also, Whats up with the no touching or actual face to face contact? How do they repopulate without human touch? In addition, the way they raise their children. How can you raise a child through a screen millions of miles away ? I have so many questions but these are one of the few I had when reading the text.

    • It is very similar to the film Wall-E like Carmen169 pointed out. In the movie Wall-E, nobody questions the spaceships on where it is bring them, and everyone just let the machine do the work. Until the captain questions it (just like Kuno questioning the machine) about returing to Earth’s surface that the human realize that they were powerless aganist the machine because they were unable to stand up with out the machine. It is very close to Wall-E but with a happy ending.

    • I would say that Wall-E has a similar theme to The Machine Stops. Unfortunately in the book we can’t tell too much about the living environment and whats available to the denizens, but I saw Wall-E and there was some great light on the ship. I’m not sure if this is actual sunlight coming from a skylight that mimics our atmosphere or if that’s some giant light bulb, but whatever it is its keeping the people on the ship from going pale. An underground society like Kuno’s would probably try to avoid sunlight since they want as little contact with the surface as possible. As for the human contact questions, we have social media websites that use algorithms to calculate what people would be friends or dating sites that find people good matches. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that the machine can also provide friends or a lover. I mean the machine does everything else for you so why not that too?

  4. Pingback: Snow day! (City Tech Closed Tomorrow, Th 2/9: No Class) – ENG 2420: Science Fiction

  5. I have seen evidence that a world where machines cater to our every whim is a possible reality. This may seem like some unobtainable dream, however it is feasibly possible, although fairly unlikely. The concept stems from a question that I researched last semester. Could robots take all jobs. And I’m not talking about taxi drivers and super market clerks. Could every job that requires a human with training and knowledge be replaced by a robot? As far as I can tell, or as far as I was researching, the answer is a resounding yes.
    Are you aware of the self driving cars? Well if you aren’t, yes self driving cars are real, they work, and they’re probably the way of the future. Despite popular belief having a car that has sensors surrounding it, sensing far above 60 frames per second that we humans are used to, and instant reactions to instant changes in the environment is a good thing. You see news about self driving cars getting into crashes, but most of them aren’t the fault of the cars and its hard for a computer to account for the other crummy drivers around it. Not only that, but if we connect the city with the individual cars on the streets and highways, than we can theoretically eliminate traffic jams. There are a number of ways that traffic jams can happen, and trust this is actually something I researched, but one of the most efficient ways of making a drive faster and seamless without crashing into another car is to eliminate the use of traffic lights. I’m not kidding, there is a science to this that would take a few days to explain in a post. And yes I just said there was a science to traffic jams even though its probably more like a theory or logic behind it, but it feels like a science to me. But if computers did not have a stop light to slow them down and all cars were connected to a city wide network, than this would make every car ride easier and more efficient. No doubt there are flaws to this kind of system, as Watch_dogs and Watch_dogs 2 has shown us in its driving mechanics, but we can theoretically replace not only taxi drivers but all drivers with machines.
    If you think that a robot can’t replace an artist well I’m sorry to drop this on you but yes, they actually can replace artists too. There are artificial intelligence systems that can create stunning music without human input. And no I’m not talking about those virtual pop idols from japan, all those things do is sing whatever note you want it to sing in a voice synthesizer. I’m talking about an artificial intelligence getting the okay to start working, it processing all the music for some hours, and then spitting out very refined music. And why stop there? There is an artificial intelligence called “Angelina” that makes video games. Michael Cook is an A.I. game programmer who made a program that does this. The program finds sounds, music, and pictures on the internet and places them appropriately in game. It makes sure that a human can beat the game and is capable of creating different genre and themes of video games. Thankfully for me this isn’t going to take my dream job away from me just yet but it is defiantly possible to replace me with this program whenever the program advances. But for now, I think I can beat a computer that made a 2D platformer game called “Sex, Lies And Rape” that uses copyrighted sounds, music and images.
    The machine stops is definitely a possibility. The technology may advance enough to support us whenever we decide to destroy the ecosystem and make our planet uninhabitable. But until then, how do you feel about being replaced eventually? Do you really think that machines can take every single job a human can do? Do you even think this is even possible? Well if nothing else, I hope I poked something in your brain and caused your weak will to tremble before the face of one of our possible futures.

    • Artificial intelligence are becoming more real as the world progress as Ryan pointed out, but will it ever replace human intuition or become self aware? Well it might be happening and if you ever heard of the board game go, where there are almost infinite amount of possibilities even the most advance computer cannot comprehend. Recently in 2016 an artificial intelligence computer just beaten the best player in go just by watching how us human played and of course it lost first couple of round it lost but then realize how to beat the player by how they reacted with the move it made out of the limitless move it can make. So yea our world might not be so far off from the machine world as artificial intelligence advance even more.

    • I agree, the efficiency of Artificial Intelligence, is getting better at an alarming rate. Self-driving cars are an example of that. I think that it will get to the point where there will be an A.I for practically everything. That isn’t necessarily a good thing either, as they can be hacked or evolve to the point of self-awareness and do its own thing, as shown in I-Robot.

  6. In “The Machine Stops” by E.M Froster’s, its shows how the use of advance technology can isolate people from the real world. Kuno’s mother didn’t want to go visit him because she viewed the earth as such a horrible place and Due to machines that was fulfilling all her task on a everyday basis she didn’t want to leave that environment not even for a second to go visit her son in the “real world” where manual labor is required. This frightens me we can already see how advancement in technology is having an negative effect on society for example, with all the different types of social media that people get themselves caught up in focusing on things like getting more likes or having more follows to stand through the media and in the “real world” apply little to no effort compared to being on social media. This shows how technological advancement that could’ve been used for the better is being abused and turns out being for the worst.

  7. I have read the comments and I do think that we could or may have future in which we could have machines performing our jobs as well as have everything we need brought to us like how carmen169 said with how The Machine stops by E.M Foster reminds him of “Wall-E”. But What I think is that even If we were to have machines or robots working for us they will still need maintenance to still continue to work which I feel was the cause of the machines to stop working in the story specially if most of the population having everything given to them without doing anything all in there room and raised mostly isolated made them mostly pale and weak with just a book that tells you what every button does but not how to fix the machine if it breaks. Also, most of the babies that were born were check if they were to turn out to be like muscular or athletic which I feel was a mistake to do in the first place since some could of help in maintaining the machine going but that’s just what I think. So even with having self-driving cars and artificial intelligence that were created from what Ryan Yip wrote in the comment. There still have to be someone pulling the sting in having them work in case they break down but hey the future is not written so anything could be possible with technology advancing. (sorry to carmen169 for not putting your full name)

  8. That type of civilization, while it can be efficient (and it seems like it is too), isn’t a very fulfilling one. When everyone and everything is literally the same without change, there is usually going to be someone that thinks “maybe I want change.” I guess they were probably given the sentence of “homelessness” and never heard from again, sustaining order. On another note, the killing off of muscular children was a bit too extreme. I don’t think they’d go looking to climb trees every 2 seconds. And if anything, they could just run around, not like there’d be anyone to stop them when they’re all in their own rooms.

  9. Discussion about “The Machine Stops”

    February 8, 2017 / Jaraad B. / 1 Comment

    This science fiction story takes place in a area or the machine and even though there is a society they are actually isolated because of the technology. The people are not on Earth and it is known to just be a lifeless planet that is only comprised of dirt or mud. The story revolves around two characters which are a mother and son by the same as Vashti and Kuno. The people in the story are very dependent on the machine and they worship it even though it was humans that created it. I think that one of the main themes of the story could be that one should not be dependent too much on technology but rather on themselves more.

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