Strong Silent Types: Evil Robots and Their Way with Words

About this Website

"Above you, beneath you, around you is the machine. The Earth carrying you speeds through space, turning you now to the invisible sun, now to the invisible stars. But deep down in the machine, you have your own darkness and your own light. Thanks to the universal establishment of the machine, each of you, in your room, is in touch with all that you care for in the world."

The Machine Stops (BBC Adaptation, 1966)

In 1909 E.M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops” appeared in the November issue of The Oxford and Cambridge Review. An unusual and highly imaginative science-fiction drama, the story proposed a future in which mankind lives entirely underground, in the belly of a huge subterranean machine.

Because the machine which Forster imagined was able to connect its inhabitants to one another through technological means alone, it has come to be thought of by some as an early prediction of the web.

This website should be understood as a response to the suggestion that the Internet really is like Forster’s machine which, in the context of his story, has a severely destructive impact on humankind. The hero of “The Machine Stops”, Kuno, attempts to break free from the technological prison of the machine in order to “visit the surface of the earth” and meet with his mother “face to face” – ideas she instantly dismisses as frivolous.

Is it right to compare the Internet to the trap which has ensnared mankind in Forster’s narrative? How does the web change our ability to interact with one another – for better or for worse? Is technology taking over our species or empowering it? In what ways has technology impacted on our culture? These are the kind of questions I hope to ask and, perhaps in some small way, offer elements of an answer towards through the essays on this site.

We are the generation which has witnessed the arrival of the web. The web is our machine, whether or not you believe it has the kind of negative effects which Forster seems to have forewarned us against. That is how I decided on the name for this website. This is The Machine Starts.

About Me

My name is Chris Baraniuk and I live in London. I am an amateur programmer and I like writing. A lot. My work has been published by magazines and websites in the UK and further afield. I am interested in the cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries, archive footage, the media, design, human self-perception and practically anything to do with new technology. I especially love the world wide web.

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