“I want you to come and see me.”
Vashti watched his face in the blue plate.
“But I can see you!” she exclaimed. “What more do you want?”
“I want to see you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “ I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”
– The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster (1909)
In The Machine Stops, E. M. Forster describes a sterile world of isolation in which the senses have become obsolete and nearly all interaction is virtual, controlled by “the machine.” Indeed, people in the world he paints have come to abhor direct interaction. What could possibly be gained by gathering together with others to enjoy a concert, a hike, or quiet conversation? Not long ago, the world E. M. Forster described at the beginning of the 20th Century could have been dismissed as a fantastical creation with little resemblance to the world at the end of the 20th Century. Yet here I sit with my laptop, an active instance of my browser off to the side, running Facebook. Things have changed.
A recent Toyota commercial captures the zeitgeist of our current decade. A young woman of the Millennial generation sits in front of her laptop, bemoaning the fact that her parents have shown little enthusiasm for Facebook, having only managed to “friend” 19 people. The scene then switches to her parents, out and about biking with their friends and enjoying their active lifestyle. It’s amazing how eerily similar the young woman’s world is to that of the inhabitants of Forster’s future civilization. Oprah, too, has recognized the lure of the machine. Recent promos on OWN for a new show called Life 2.0 depict the lives of people trapped in the virtual world of the web, living out their days through their avatars. It is all a bit a scary.
Thankfully, the natural world is all about balance, so just as the pendulum seems to be swinging more in the direction of the machine, counter forces are in play to coax it back in the other direction. The Kindle and the Nook may be gaining momentum, but fine book printing and scrapbooking are too. Facebook and other social media sites are booming, but so is meetup.com, which encourages people to meet in person. Then there is the wonderful world of food and drink, which leads, quite naturally, to tea. As E. M. Forster – a Brit – would agree, the virtual world does have its limitations and tea is one of those. Tea is one of our most sensuous drinks. As we scoop the leaves into the pot, we notice their size, their shape, and their color. As we set the kettle on the stove, we listen for just the right sound that tells us the water has reached the optimal temperature for the tea we are preparing. As we cradle the cup of steeped tea in our hands, we smell its unique aroma and let the steam caress our face. And as we take that first taste – that first wonderful sip – we are transported to the tea’s birth garden, where the influences of weather, terroir, and surrounding plants combine to create that one-of-a-kind flavor. We certainly exchange our tea experiences, recommendations, and knowledge online, but the act of preparing and enjoying a pot of tea is a distinctly non-virtual one.