I have a present for you.
It is my favourite kind of present: a book.
It is a short novel by E. M. Foster, first published in 1909. It is called ‘The Machine Stops’.
This novel tells the story of Vashti, who lives an isolated but contented life. One day, her son calls, insisting that she come and visit him on the other side of the world, for he has something very important to tell her.
I am not going to tell you what happens after that call – it is a short story, after all, and I would spoil it for you.
In fact, the purpose of the call is not even the main reason why I am recommending this story.
In my opinion, this book is worth reading for the simple fact that it was written in 1909 and, yet, it describes people communicating across the world via what we would now recognise as internet telephony, which they access on devices that very much look like today’s tablets. Moreover, the book describes people interacting with their environment via voice activated devices (much like Amazon’s Alexa). And it talks about people preferring indirect experiences of the world to direct contact (instant messaging and social media anyone?). The book also talks about society valuing ‘second hand ideas’ more than direct investigation of facts – is it me, or it sounds very much like the post-truth society?!
1909! The radio receiver had been invented only 8 years earlier, the air conditioner 7, and the Wright brothers had invented aircraft controls merely 6 years before this short story was published.
Read it. And let me know what you think.