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E. M. Forster's short story 'The Machine Stops' was published in the 1909 edition of the Oxford & Cambridge Review and was prescient in terms of thinking about the downsides of the Internet - well before the Internet was invented - the circulation of gossip and of third-hand hearsay masquerading as informed opinion.

Given that E. M. Forster was writing around eighty years before the Internet was invented, has anyone theorised what inspired him to come up with technology in this story as well as the world explored?

  • Eh? A quick Google search tells me that the word "Internet" didn't appear until the second half of the 20th century. – Double U Jan 20 at 4:31
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    @DoubleU: Forster uses the name "The Machine" but some modern readers see an analogy with (certain aspects of) the Internet. – Gareth Rees Jan 20 at 9:51
  • @GarethRees That is still the POV of the modern reader. The original post assumes that the author actually was thinking of the Internet. Sure, there may be similarities, but you can find similarities in almost anything. – Double U Jan 20 at 14:05
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In the introduction to his Collected Short Stories, Forster said "The Machine Stops" was

a reaction to one of the earlier heavens of H. G. Wells.

"The Machine Stops" was published in 1909, which gives a later limit as to which of Wells' stories or novels he could have been responding to. Someone more familiar with H. G. Wells' work may have a more definite answer, but my suspicion is that it might have been When the Sleeper Wakes, a story originally published in 1898-99 and republished in a revised form as The Sleeper Awakes in 1910. When the Sleeper Wakes features devices called Babble Machines, which are used to spread propaganda and subdue the population:

so far as the more prosperous classes were concerned, in all the more comfortable private apartments of the city were fixed Babble Machines that would speak directly a lever was pulled. The tenant of the apartment could connect this with the cables of any of the great News Syndicates that he preferred.

If I'm right, Forster was probably being ironic or semi-ironic by describing this as one of Wells' "heavens", since the future society in When the Sleeper Wakes is not exactly a utopia.

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