Tag Archives: the future

The machine starts? What can we learn from stories?

Phil: A few days ago, the government floated the idea that everyone 50 years and over should be shut away for the duration of the pandemic. While they quickly denied that they had suggested the idea to some excitable tabloid journalists, it stuck in my mind. Partly ‘cos I’ve just reached the age of being locked up and doubt that government food parcels, if they are part of the plan, would include Tunnocks teacakes.

At the same time, I was discussing the prospects of going to public shows and exhibitions on my blog.

Both there and on other bits of social media, I find plenty of people who quite like being locked down. Not in a purvey way (stop sniggering Nolan) but a mixture of introversion and social anxiety means they are quite happy being told not to go and mix with other people. A couple said they were quite happy ordering everything online and chatting via video calls. Hunkering down at home and shutting the world out is appealing.

This put me in mind of the short story, The Machine Stops, by EM Forster. The story describes a world in which most humanity lives in isolation underground in standard rooms, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global machine. This gradually breaks down, but acknowledging this isn’t allowed.

You can read the full text here.

Now, doesn’t that sound a bit like the natural extrapolation of all those happy to shut themselves off from real contact? Unknowingly, Forster is showing us our potential future.

We see it in film too. Look at the people in Disney’s Wall-E. Locked in their mobile seats endlessly staring into a screen.

Some say we should learn from history, but it’s just as important to look at the worlds writers have conjured up for us. After all, we are the first people who can deal with our problems in this way. When I was a kid, the Interweb was science fiction. Mail order existed, but only by telephone. Grocery delivery was unheard of. Now, for many, there is no pressing reason to leave the house, and we are constantly told many excuses not to do so.

Imagination is a powerful thing. We should harness it.

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The loneliness of the long distance writer

BeerPhil: OK, so the Nolan has outed me. I do have a newish job that has been eating up my time. It’s not exactly “fancy” but at it pays the bills and I’m chuffed to have it.

Some of you will know that I have moved from being the nerdy guy in IT when I met Candice, to being a really nerdy writer for British Railway Modelling Magazine as well as editing an on-line mag 3 times a week in the same field. Quite frankly, I’m such an anorak I’m amazed she still talks to me…

Anyway, that’s my excuse for being a bit rubbish on the book front. No new house, apart from a miniature one, and any bump I have is all doughnuts and not baby.

The problem with all this is that I work from home. No office for me. Colleagues are on the end of a phone or e-mail. I drive 70 miles to the office once a month for an editorial meeting. Apart from that, unless we meet up at an exhibition, then I’m on my own.

Which is why, despite crazy deadlines hanging over me, an editor champing at the bit to push files in the direction of the designer, and the Christmas break driving everyone nuts as everything has to be at the press a week earlier, by the time some of you are reading this, I hope to be in London. Drinking beer.

Us home workers don’t get a Christmas “do”. I’m not complaining, as I’ve explained in the past, I’m not a great fan of enforced office jollity. I’m not the one wearing flashing reindeer and throwing shapes on the photocopiers. I can deal with meeting colleagues from my own and even rival publications for a drink while enjoying the capitals festive ambiance. It’s a small world I work in and the chance to catch up with the gossip isn’t to be missed.

More to the point, while working from home allows the worker to choose their own hours – as long as my copy goes in on time no one worries when I wrote it – sometimes those hours are well outside the normal office ones. I need a day off and I need it badly. Even writing about a hobby can be hard work and there’s a lot more keyboard hammering to do yet! The hours I’ll be chosing to work will include this weekend.

Which brings me back to The Book.

You might think that The Book would be the last thing on my mind. Far from it; I am really looking forward to getting back in to a world populated by the characters who are in our heads. It might still be typing on a screen but it’s a very different beast. OK, there’s no publisher (yet) sitting waiting for copy but that might come. Self-publishing actually sounds exciting, a whole new world to experience. Yes, there will be setbacks but I can’t let this thing go now, so as soon as Madam puts down the roller we’ll be back at it I hope.

Something to look forward to in the new year.

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