Monday, February 20, 2012

The Machine Stops

As we continue to descend down the rabbit hole of technology - phones, computers, Netflix, blogs, social media and now media aggregates such as Reddit, Pintrest, and Gentlemint, the question continues to arise:

Are we, as a society, growing closer or drifting further apart?

During my freshman year of undergraduate study, there was a required text we explored entitled "The Machine Stops". This short story, by E.M. Forster, was penned in 1909, and is chilling in it's parallels to modern society and it's dependence on technology.

I am torn. As I peruse the pages of social media, I am instantly connected with people and information to which I once would have never had access. People who would have surely faded from my sphere of influence years ago are bestowing me with insipid information of their daily lives. Posts about their dogs, their kids, their breakfasts, and their drama, all flooding into my already packed brain. 

Yet alongside the mundane details of meal menus and passive-aggression, comes recommendations of new music, recently viewed movies, home improvement projects and community events. There are humorous quips from amateur comedians that, without the grassroots egalitarianism of social media, would never escape from the smoky bars where they were first uttered. The entrepreneurs would never share their genius with micro-lenders on sites such as kickstarter. Chef's would not so elaborately collaborate and explore unheard-of recipe combinations that undoubtedly include bacon and/or cupcakes.

So the trade-off must be the relationship between review and action. When I sit and absorb information until my eyelids turn to sandpaper, I may gain knowledge, but knowledge without action is fruitless. When that knowledge is tempered with collaboration, physical engagement, and social, environmental, or civic interaction, then technology is being used to its fullest potential.

Life is a balance. Heavy reliance on any one aspect of our lives is a dangerous practice. As long as we as a society can retain our independence from the machine that we've built around ourselves, we can survive the day that it eventually stops.


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