Technological advancements have influenced all aspects of human interactions
We use communication interfaces like FaceTime to communicate, applications to order food and groceries, applications to turn off or on our appliances without being near them. These advancements have allowed us to exert less force and effort in day to day activities. Benefits derived from technologies, although convenient in daily activities, come with long-term consequences. Our daily dependence on technology will eventually become a disability. Our symptoms will manifest through a lack of creativity, emotional connections, inquisition, and knowledge. With an increase in technological advancements, many literary works have voiced concerns about the ramifications of continuing to integrate technology in daily lives. Warnings of these future consequences are present in E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops". In this dystopian world, the needs and desires of the people are met by the 'Machine'. Forster depicts the machine as a godlike being, praised by the people of the underground civilization. The superiority given to the machine emphasizes Lisa Gitelman's concept of 'technological innovation appear[ing] autonomous, only to the extent that we fail to identify and challenge its real agencies" (Gitelman, pg. 9). The disciples of the machine warn against the real agencies of technologies, or their underlying intentions. In this essay, the disciples of the machine warn against the long term consequences of technology.
Continuing to depend on technology will hinder our ability to create new thoughts and inventions. Our desire and need to create new inventions and ideas will be taken over by artificial intelligence and computational software we have invented already. Silvanna Caporaletti touches on this concept in her "Science as Nightmare: 'The Machine Stops' by E.M. Forster" article. She criticizes the people in the civilization saying "the Machine, that stupendous and tangible testimony to human intellect, almost perfect in its capacity for autoregulation and auto regeneration, has gradually and inadvertently deprived human existence of all significance" (Caporaletti, pg. 38). Without the generation of thoughts or inventions, they no longer contribute to or have a purpose in their society, a fate we now face. Our desire to create artificial intelligence programs and computational software that can solve complex problems and create new technologies will leave us without jobs or a contribution to society in the form of new ideas. The latter of these consequences is already present in Foster's dystopian world. Certain lecturers warn against 'first-hand ideas' claiming they are the "physical impressions produced by love and fear" which is a foundation undesirable in producing thoughts. The lecturer prompts the audience to let their "ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element — direct observation" (Forster, pg. 18). Attending and giving lectures, listening to music, and enhancing ideas are the daily activities of the inhabitants and their only contribution to society. If we do not heed the warning of losing a sense of self through the creation of new thoughts, we will be left with only the regurgitation of old concepts and ideas, leaving a society without purpose.
Furthermore, the machines in our world, like the sole machine in the dystopia of Foster, is responsible for the creation of music, a task once dependent on the creativity of man. In the world of the machine, the inhabitants are rendered "incapable of original thought" as their "[m]usic, literature, even poetry are produced exclusively by 'electronic' devices" (Caporatelli, pg. 38). There are no longer musical instruments for the use of creating new pieces or a new style of playing. All creativity in the form of music has ceased, just as all original thoughts have been shunned. In the present society, the adaptation of electronic devices in music creation has allowed for an "industrial design triumph: a better power source, cheaper machines, and mass-produced musical recordings" (Gitelman, pg. 14). We benefit from the wide range and diffusion of music and the relatively affordable accessibility of music. We can indulge in the sounds of different genres from different parts of the world due to technological advancements in music. Although the industrial triumph in music has been beneficially in daily lives, it is important to acknowledge the negative effects on creativity. Depending on autotune and manipulation software takes away the human component found in music. The new soundtracks produced on computers does not include the human innovation of powerful, and personal lyrics. There is no more personal touch to the cords being stuck or the beauty in the small flaws of slipped fingers on a cord. Deleting human beauty and error from music, take away another contribution humans have on society.
Increasing the use of technology in our daily lives will isolate us from the world and decrease our emotional connections with each other. We no longer look up from our phones to see what is in front of us. The decline in our social and emotional connections is due to our increased dependence on technology. We communicate with each other over FactTime and instant messaging, replacing the face to face interactions that hold actual emotions. Although messaging and FaceTime connect us across time and space, the sensation and connections are not the same. Dependence on technology to build and maintain our connections means trading our sense of touch and emotion for the sense of sight. We value seeing each other on a screen versus feeling each other. If you walk into any restaurant or coffee shop, you see people in groups eating and scrolling or tapping on their phones or laptops. The human in front of them is background noise, their main focus of the small device in front of them. Electronic devices have decreased the need or more so the desire to meet in person and talk face to face. Continuing in this direction warns Forester, we will soon find ourselves repulsed by the touch of another. In the short story, the custom of physical touch and comfort became obsolete (Foster, pg. 9). There was no desire to feel a comforting hand or receive a warm hug. There is only an exchange of ideas not an exchange of touch or emotions. Even the maternal emotional connection vital to childcare has been depleted. The population of the underground civilization was a job more than it was a desire and the duties of the parents "cease at the moment of birth". The connection between mother and child is no longer valued. The facilitation of certain human aspects, such as reproduction, through technology, poses a threat to human connections. If the value of human connections declines due to the increased dependence on technology, we will be faced with the same indifference in our ties with family and friends. We will avoid one another "with an almost physical repulsion and longing to be once more" in front of our phones, TVs, or laptop asn isolated in our own worlds (Foster, pg. 10). We are slowly transforming our society to resemble the utopia under the machine, except our machine fits in our back pocket.
Moreover, our dependence on technology as a vessel to transport us to distant lands from the comfort of our homes will decrease our inquisition and desire to explore. We will become content with viewing the large wonders of the word from the small screens of our electronics. Forster makes travel unpopular in his story, ironically attributing it the "the advance of science" which made "the earth....exactly alike all over" (Foster, pg. 12). The lack of exploration was due to the science taking out the beauty of the world and putting it in books and lectures. They lacked the motivation to experience anything other than their own company. The same can be said for present society. We already see the beauty of the world around us through the screen or lense on our phones. Although we still indulge in travel, we do so with a phone or camera in hand. We never experience anything first hand; we prefer to save the experience for later in the form of a picture or video. When we go to concerts, we spend more time making sure our cameras are angled well enough to capture the experience. When we go to new places, we prefer to take pictures than tack in the experience. The improvements in cameras and phones have encouraged and facilitated documenting experiences as photos. Like the people in the story, technological contributions meant to enhance experiences have become better than the experience.
Furthermore, as we increase technological dependence we lose basic skills and mobile functions. Just as Foster's people have "buttons and switches everywhere — buttons to call for food for music, for clothing" we have cell phones with applications everywhere to help us get what we want and enables us to forget how to do things ourselves. They do not have to walk anywhere to get what the need nor do they need how to do anything for themselves. If they need are hungry, they call up food without the need to cook. If they are cold, they call up the warmth, without needing to know how to use a thermostat. We are them now. We use food delivery applications to bring food to us wherever we are, without needing to cook. We use technology to park our cars, forgetting how to do it ourselves. Just as people in the dystopia have a decrease in motor function, we will have a decrease in cognitive function. Their "impotent immobility" makes them resemble "larvae whose existence, entirely consumed inside their cocoons, never reaches the threshold of life" (Caporatelli, pg. 35). Similarly, our inability to be self-sufficient due to our consumption with our handheld cocoons, smartphones, will hinder our ability to maximize our cognitive functions.
If we continue to depend on technology, we will lose the ability to parallel park, read a clock, and do simple math. From the moment we wake up the moment we go to sleep, we have our phones inches from us. We use them to communicate with one another, entertain us, and help us commute from point A to point B. Another cognitive function we will lose is the ability to create mental maps and navigate our way from point A to point B. Our dependence on Google and iPhone Maps will leave us without a sense of direction or space. Kuno, the son of the main character in the short story, discovered that he and everyone around him had already lost the sense of space. He rediscovered the meaning of 'Near' and 'Far' by walking around the tunnels outside his room (Foster, pg. 11). He realized that man is the measure and our relation to space is a skill easily lost without continuous usage. If we become enlightened like Kuno, we can recover our sense of space. Using maps is not what causes our decrease in navigation, it is our dependence on it.
Technology is not the culprit of the store. Our dependence on technology is what Foster warns us about. The technological advancements from the past decades have allowed for social improvement in education, medicine, and other fields. The way we use the technologies available to us should be regulated. We use the technology available to us to do our work for us versus using them to make us more efficient. We went to an extreme, allowing for machines and applications to do for us basic skills that make us human. We have become complacent with offloading our work onto machines that we have forgotten how to do menial tasks that remind us we are humans.
Our decrease in cognitive function, inquisition, emotion, and creativity is proportional to our increase of technological dependence. If we continue to depend on applications to the extent to which we do, we will be living in the utopian world of Foster. In the long run, we will become disabled in the same way Foster portrays his civilization. We will be mentally, physically, and emotionally disabled to the point where we can no longer create, explore, or enjoy life or technology.
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