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1. So far throughout this course we have read different styles of philosophies in regards to how to analyze the existence of technology ranging from individuals like German philosopher Ernst Kapp who equated technology to that of the human body describing railroads and the telegraph as the circulatory system and nervous system respectively (Mitcham 74), to folks like Lewis Mumford who coined the conceptual views of polytechnics such that technology harmonizes with life and the diversity of human possibilities contrasted with monotechnics which sees technology merely as a means to an end (Mitcham 78). Though, one particular theme that has been touched on throughout our other readings that is still up for philosophical debate is whether human beings have a handle on technology, or does technology have a handle on human beings.

To that end is where we have E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”, a dystopian short story about an age of humanity where the current generation of human beings have been so reliant on a literal machine for their existence to the point where humanity knows no other means of living their life without it. The reader discovers that civilization begins to worship The Machine as a form of deity, noting that “‘The Machine,’ they exclaimed, ‘feeds us and clothes us and houses us; through it we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being'” (Forster 19), and even describes the entirety of civilization each having a copy of a book describing what The Machine is capable of; a kind of tomb that acts as the story’s version of a Bible of sorts (Forster illustrates throughout). We eventually learn that, through the course of multiple generations, humans needed to escape the ravages of Earth’s surface by creating civilization underground, along with a complex machine to allow everyone to survive.

What, then, does Forster say about the human relationship with the natural world in a technologically developed society? Forster describes a world where, after many generations, human beings have been completely divorced from the natural world outright to the point where the majority of society does not know what the surface of Earth is actually like other than what they are told by The Machine. As such, the knowledge and ideas people gain are through indirect means, described by the passage “Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element — direct observation” (Forster 18). Forster’s fictional society is basically saying humans have no need to experience the real world when The Machine can describe it to them; while it is acknowledged that humans created The Machine itself, it was only a matter of time before The Machine would eventually control the humans due to their reliance on what The Machine provides for their livelihood.

So does this manage to resonate with Heidegger’s notion of enframing? I think it does given what we know enframing to be, which is “when we start seeing things (beings, things) merely in terms of their possible use or optimization” (Cardoza-Kon 2). The Machine is basically enacting its control over the populace to think only certain things, act in a certain way, etc. in order to run society in as optimal a matter as possible.


Many philosophers have put emphasis on the growing disconnect with nature that is developing as our dependence on technology grows stronger. Most notably a certain approach at looking at this relationship known as ‘substantivism’ theorizes that someday this disconnect will become so vast that our society will begins viewing ourselves in the same terms, such as seeing people as a form of resource instead of individual human beings. This is a concept that is metaphorically depicted in the short story The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster;

This is a story of a future that has such advanced technology that the people of Earth are physically separated from the desolate remains of the planet and each other, yet virtually connected in massive numbers through modes provided by what is known as “The Machine”. This mechanical system provides the citizens with everything they need to survive; food, clothes, artificial air. Yet throughout the progression of this lifestyle, the people become more of a working part within The Machine, losing touch with their humanity and what it really means to experience life. Near the end of the story, the people begin worshiping The Machine as a god-like deity, warping the stories of history to shape everything in the terms of this mechanical system. Only too late do the humans realize what they have lost, and as The Machine deteriorates, one last breath of humanity is felt by its dying subjects, (Forster, E.M., 1909).

This story illustrates the point that many substantivists warn about; a world where the natural environment is shunned in preference of technological conveniences, people remaining connected through virtual modes yet are distanced physically no matter how close the others actually are. Control of this mechanical system takes priority over maintaining the sustainable natural systems, the Earth is depleted of resources and the flora and fauna are almost completely extinct. In this way, the users of the technology are ‘enframing’ its way of life and taking on the new direction that the artifact has provided. In the words of Martin Heidegger, “Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man … to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve.”, (Heidegger, M., 1977). In other words, the setting that the artifacts have provided are revealed as real to the users, and their ways of life are reformed as such. In Forsters story, the occupants of the cities have become the very nature of technology, embracing the opportunities that it has made possible and incorporating that new aspect into their behaviors. This story is one of the possibilities of the type of future that Heidegger has feared, extreme though it be.

Words Cited

Forster, E. M. (2011). The Machine Stops. Penguin Classics.

Heidegger, M., W. Lovitt, trans. (1977). The Question Concerning Technology. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, 38-72.

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