Monday, 7 March 2016

The Machine Stops

I was waiting for the elevator (lift) one morning and when it arrived and I stepped inside it said ‘sorry for keeping you waiting’. I have come to doubt her sincerity..

It put me in mind of a short story I read years ago, written in the early 1900’s by E.M Forester called ‘The Machine stops’. Science fiction in its day but having re-read it, it sent a chill down my spine as I recognized so much of my own daily life in its pages.

It describes a world fully connected by ‘the machine’. People living in subterranean condominiums, communicate through a screen, take courses, talk instantly with anyone around the world, push a button to get food or other necessities, never go outside or have real human contact and simply recycle the same ideas over and over at the expense of original thought. It sounds familiar.

In the US it was reported that young-teens are checking their social networking sites (Facebook and twitter particularly) with smart phones up to 100 times per day. I got on a bus the other day and every occupant was glued to their smartphones, I could have walked in with a rocket launcher over my shoulder without being spotted, even the driver was checking his phone while another line of smart-phone zombies filed in behind me.

What we receive through these devices is often inaccurate or low quality information and yet people have a tendency to trust what they see on Facebook, it can be quite hard to discern fact from fiction. Pictures with mis-quotes are all the rage, quickly followed by a cat video and then a high resolution photo of somebody’s egg and chips; a stream of inaccuracy, bland entertainment and trivia. It’s a sort of junk food for the mind and we are feasting on it to the exclusion of a more nutritious diet.

 It’s worth assessing how much time we are using up (the supply is limited) with these devices as compared with say spending time with loved ones, time in prayer, in something socially useful or going off-line altogether and enjoying nature perhaps.

Our reliance (and addiction) to these very new technologies is already disturbing. We will need to be intentional and deliberate in disconnecting from them frequently in order to use them rather than be controlled by them. 

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