Plague journal: The Machine Starts

Another dispatch from the new normal

As the weeks go on, I’ve noticed people being increasingly shitty across social media. I totally understand why it’s happening, but in the last week I’ve experienced 5 separate incidents, and that’s more than I am willing to deal with, so I decided it’s time to start disconnecting from some places. I started by deactivating my Facebook account today. I only really still had it to avoid missing invites to events, and there aren’t any events now, so this seems like a good opportunity to tell Zuckerberg to get fucked.

A few days ago of the animals in Animal Crossing approached me, and asked me if I feel like crying sometimes. He told me it was OK to cry, and taught me the in-game emote for crying. Then the game said that now I could “weep for tomorrow”. I am more and more convinced that Nintendo is deliberately tailoring Animal Crossing towards therapeutic value.

I talked to my parents via video chat today, then went for a long walk. I’d estimate 10-15% of the people I saw were wearing face masks. I think that’s enough that it’s now normal? I don’t know if it’s normal to sit and cry in public yet. I didn’t see anyone else doing that. So opinions may differ, but here’s mine: I think these days, any time you make it through an entire day without crying, you knocked it out of the park.

This being Easter weekend, tomorrow will be a big test for America’s Christians. Will they find some new way to mark the date, or will they gather in large groups and spread deadly virus to each other? At the seminary, they decided to build a cairn on Good Friday. People could turn up, make their way there one by one, and each leave a stone.


Of course, there are other churches expecting congregations of thousands, and people on Twitter screaming for the lockdowns to end because they think COVID-19 is a hoax. I’m done caring about those people, I just hope they’ll all wear MAGA hats so the rest of us will know to stay well away from them.

I find myself increasingly thinking about E.M. Forster’s 1909 Science Fiction story The Machine Stops. Wikipedia describes the setting as follows:

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

You can guess the rough outline of events from the title. But the story doesn’t discuss why the machine started. From this viewpoint 111 years in Forster’s future, that now seems like an odd omission. What if there were perfectly good reasons for everyone to live in isolation, communicating via video chat and instant messaging, never touching another human being, and receiving all supplies via mail order?