I Suppose I Must See Who It Is

‘Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. 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, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops – but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds – but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die. Oh, I have no remedy – or, at least, only one – to tell men again and again that I have seen the hills of Wessex as Ælfrid saw them when he overthrew the Danes.

E.M. Forster

The Machine Stops

I had a thoroughly interesting conversation today about the state of what is known in some circles as the “blogosphere.”  This bizarre world is inhabited by all sorts of frustrated journalists, fanatics, hobbyists, and bored people.  There are some fantastic sites out there, and some which are a complete waste of time.  I hope The Alder Fork lies closer to the former, but ultimately I can’t decide if that’s true.  The friend I was talking to works in television and has seen the evolution of that medium in the last few years up close.  For whatever reason people have been drawn to reality television and shows that provide caricatures of real people in ridiculous situations.  On top of that we have the internet, a place where a person can create an image for themselves that conforms to their vision, and not necessarily reality. This is hardly a new observation but is one that will likely be more apt as our “real life” identities become indistinguishable from what we do online.

That thought launches me off towards a story I read as a high school student, in the days when the internet was just becoming a popular consumer product (think 1997 or so).  Most of my friends and I were familiar with the concept of the internet but few of us had it in our homes.  High speed was definitely still a far off dream for us, and our school computers gave us access to a slow but fascinating world.  The story in question is E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops.  This delightful piece of early Twentieth Century science fiction more or less predicted the internet, video conferencing, and I would argue Facebook/Twitter or social networking programs in general.  Forster paints a picture of a desperate future where people rarely leave their home pods to have physical contact with others.  Procreation is accomplished mechanically and the outside is a scary and supposedly poisonous place.  In typical dystopian fashion the entire world turns out to be backwards and salvation could only be found elsewhere for the protagonist. You can read the complete story (it’s not that long) here.

When I read that story in high school I’m not sure I understood it’s contemporary significance.  I no longer view the story as merely a description of the futility of relying on technology to perfect life, a lesson I’m sure humanity has learnt by now.  It probably should’ve been obvious to me then, as it is now, that Forster was concerned about the breakdown of human interaction and relationship.  It’s an issue that’s been discussed in popular magazines and academic literature, particularly in regards to the internet.  Electronic relationships don’t appear to nourish people the same way that flesh and blood ones do.  Never mind that a few years after this story was written World War I created an environment where humanity essentially ceased to exist, and the bonds that tie people together were not only broken but annihilated in muddy trenches.  As much as I rely on this blog, my podcast, and the various ways I promote my music online, to sustain my creative output, I do feel the urge to play live for real people.  The internet is supposed to open up global interaction, allow the sharing of knowledge from pole to pole, and create a worldwide village.  It does these things, but I know that being too attached to my computer is a dangerous way to miss some of the experiences that make life grand.  As someone who is strongly attached to digital media I feel a certain responsibility to not only help push the boundaries of this medium, but also to find ways to relate back to what is most real in life. The Alder Fork Festival is certainly one part of that, and I like to think that by writing about music, art, and film I am encouraging people away from here for a little while to enjoy what’s being created outside of the machine.

This has been a bit of a soapboxy rant on my part, and I apologize. I am not really here to preach, but I think it’s important from time to time to take a break from creating online content to reflect on it’s meaning.  Must be the philosopher in me. I think Gustavo Gutierrez would be proud.

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