"The Machine Stops" is a short story by E. M. Forster, originally published in 1909, which describes a future in which humans no longer live on the surface of Earth; instead, they inhabit underground rooms which offer complete insulation from the natural environment. "Buttons and switches everywhere" are used to "summon" physical objects, control the artificial climate, and communicate with other humans, making it unnecessary to ever leave one's room. An entity called "the Machine" runs these systems, and, because humans depend so heavily on it for survival, the Machine is often regarded with divine fervency.
It's hard to imagine living in the world of "The Machine Stops," and yet it's relatively easy to analyze current technologies to predict similarly dystopian scenarios for our own future. For some, personal computing and the ubiquity of mobile devices symbolizes a loss of human-to-human interaction unmediated by computers. Others, like Google co-founder Sergey Brin, do recognize that these technologies can be "socially isolating" but work to reduce the effect.
The irony is that many current technologies designed to connect people also have the side effect of causing social isolation, perhaps due to the immense difficulty of creating artificial experiences that rival in-person interaction.
What, at a basic level, do you think is required in technologies that facilitate and/or simulate true human experiences? Given our current communication and social technologies, are you confident that new technological paradigms will alleviate this problem of social isolation?
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