Tuesday, September 17, 2013
The Machine has been grinding to a halt for a while now.
E.M. Forster certainly was prescient when he wrote his tale of the future. The inhabitants of his future world live in automated bliss. Everything they need is provided for them by machines, and because they have no need to leave their comfortable quarters, most don't. There are few original thoughts or ideas, because everything has already been thought of . People amuse themselves by doing little projects on art or literature and sharing them over an interconnecting communication system, but no one really has any original thought.
The means for travel still exist, but people don't go anywhere so the huge airships glide back and forth between their ports, empty. Visiting the surface of the earth from the communities underground is considered atavistic and can land you in deep trouble with the community.
Slowly but surely, a great change is taking place in this secure world. The Machine, the device which regulates all and provides all, is breaking down. No one knows how to repair it, or even seems to give the possibility any thought because the break down is so slow that at first, it simply seems inconvenient. By the time the inhabitants realize how far advanced the deterioration is, it's too late to do anything about it even if they had the skills or initiative.
I have a reason for thinking about this book today. On Friday, 6 September I sent a package of documents to my tax accountant in the city. It had taken me some time to acquire them, since not all brokerages will let you get financial information by down loading it. A lot of that kind of thing has to be ordered and then you wait for the mail to bring it. I sent the package priority mail, with a guarenteed delivery date of Monday, 9 September. It reached the sort facility of the U.S. Post Office on the 7th. And there it sat , untouched, until the 12th of September. At that point, they declared it undeliverable as addressed, and it sat in the post office until the 16th. On the 16th they magically discovered that the address was correct, and delivered it. Over a week late, but they delivered it.
There was a time when the Post Office here was a byword for reliability. "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet..." Remember that ? But the machine is broken and it's grinding to a halt. This instance is only a pin prick, until you look at what else is going on. The water in most major cities (and some small towns) is dangerous to drink. We routinely have outbreaks of deadly diseases like Escherichia coli and Salmonella in our food supply. The transportation system in the country is in appalling condition. Anyone who hasn't seen The Crumbling of America, a two hour History Channel program, should take a look at that.
Care for the mentally ill is virtually non-existent now. My state simply closed the state funded facilities for those people a few years back. The governor of the time touted the savings but pumping mentally ill people into the streets to become homeless vagrants or murderous Morlocks seems a poor way to save to me.
Since 2007, vast numbers of middle class people have lost their jobs, and shortly thereafter, their homes. If you take a look at the actual numbers, even when they've been toned down for propaganda purposes by the government, the swath cut through middle class families is staggering.
Full time jobs for people in their twenties and above seem to be a thing of the past unless you have someone with an "in" who can get you decent work. For the rest of the population, now you have to try to scurry between two or more part time jobs to make enough for a cheap apartment.
I'll bet everyone who reads this could add some facet of our civilization that just isn't working correctly or at all anymore.
Like the people in The Machine Stops we can all see these things happening but no one quite knows what to do, how to fix it. So no one will do anything and it won't get fixed. I tease other folks about doom and gloom prognostications on their blogs, but it's hard not to feel a little apprehensive sometimes over the way things are working out. If you have kids, then it's worse because you absolutely know that the quality of life in their adult years will be far less than that you enjoyed at the same ages. Right now, you can help your kids, grown or not. You can keep up with how they are doing and try to help them with whatever problems they are having to work out. But what happens when you aren't around anymore, and leave them in this quagmire on their own?