Was E. M. Forster The First Skyper?

INT21

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The opening scene in E.M Forster's 'The Machine Stop' has all the hall marks of skype.

Was he the first to use this in a story ?

Also is this story a grim fore telling of what could happen to us ?

INT21
 

EnolaGaia

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The opening scene in E.M Forster's 'The Machine Stop' has all the hall marks of skype.
Was he the first to use this in a story ? ...
No - at least not if "story" includes conceptual pieces about emerging or future technology.

Only a couple of years after Bell unveiled his telephone (i.e., circa 1878 (?)) forward-thinking French writers and journalists were predicting the long-distance transmission of visuals as well as sound.

They went so far as to give such a device the name "telephonoscope". If I remember correctly, someone alleged Edison was already working on such a thing or had already perfected it.

Du Maurier created sketch of such a device in use, which was published in Punch in December 1878.

 

INT21

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Not sure if that counts.

I meant more as part of the plot in the story.

The key point of the story is, though, the breakdown of 'the machine'.

Highlighting the reliance placed upon it.
 

EnolaGaia

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Not sure if that counts.
I meant more as part of the plot in the story. ...
I have little doubt the earliest appearance of a videophone (prior to Forster) occurred in a fiction story written in French - probably dating back to the very late 1870s or 1880s.

In any case ... The telephonoscope was definitely mentioned in French author / illustrator Albert Robida's science fiction novel Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique (1890).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Vingtième_siècle._La_vie_électrique

Whether Robida or anyone else (almost certainly French) incorporated the telephonoscope in fiction prior to that is still an open question.
 

eburacum

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E.M.Forster's vision of a society dominated by social media and automation is extremely prescient, in my opinion. Many later uses of the telephonoscope/videophone/viewscreen/skype trope envisaged that the scope would be use as an emergency channel, dedicated to disseminating important news and emergency broadcasts, as well as allowing competent experts the opportunity to observe distant disasters and give necessary assistance. This is the way the International Rescue crews use their videophones in Thunderbirds, for instance.

Even Arthur C. Clarke, who predicted widespread two-way video communications, seems to have thought it would be mostly used for sending messages to lonely crew on distant spacecraft, and reading on-line newspapers. He didn't expect that practically everyone would have a smartphone conversation (or several) of some sort on the go all the time, and everyone would be sending pictures of their lunch.
 

James_H

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It strikes me the other way round – for a hundred years, videocalling was seen as a science-fiction pipe dream on a par with flying cars. When it actually came into the world, it felt very normal. I never make a video call and think 'wow, that's crazy, I'm living in a sci-fi world' (though many other things do make me think that).
 

INT21

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Yes, we do live in what would once have been consider near impossible. And we now take it for granted.

Forster was correct in so many ways.
 

EnolaGaia

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It strikes me the other way round – for a hundred years, videocalling was seen as a science-fiction pipe dream on a par with flying cars. When it actually came into the world, it felt very normal. ...
It didn't take a hundred years ... The first long-distance teleconference occurred in 1927, using "pre-video" stroboscopic image capture and transmission techniques. By the late 1930s multiple European postal organizations offered limited video phone booth services using dedicated facilities and transmission channels. The first commercially available videophones were marketed in the 1950s.

Above and beyond the obvious technical and economic issues that had to be overcome, there was an even bigger problem - i.e., that video adds little or nothing to one-on-one or group-to-group 2-way communications. In other words, resistance to video telephony / video conferencing had as much or more to do with usability / usefulness as with feasibility or affordability.

Except for certain situations in which the image of the other party / parties is a critical component of the conversational context, video remains little more than a "cool" adjunct to distance communication. The warm and fuzzy feel-good factor of seeing your conversational partner is the only guaranteed value added.

In the context of distributed groups collaborating in real time, video has been consistently demonstrated to degrade group task performance.
 

James_H

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Except for certain situations in which the image of the other party / parties is a critical component of the conversational context, video remains little more than a "cool" adjunct to distance communication. The warm and fuzzy feel-good factor of seeing your conversational partner is the only guaranteed value added.
It's a non-negligible value though. Speaking from experience, and I know I'm not the only one, I much prefer to talk to my family via skype than on the phone because it's one of the few times I actually get to 'see' them.
 

EnolaGaia

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It's a non-negligible value though. Speaking from experience, and I know I'm not the only one, I much prefer to talk to my family via skype than on the phone because it's one of the few times I actually get to 'see' them.
Oh, I understand ... That's the feel-good factor I mentioned - a gloss on the communication capabilities that imparts some peripheral measure of personal presence or connection. Once the cost structure for personal video telephony shrank to a feasible level (facilitated as much by networking / bandwidth capabilities as anything else ... ) it could finally be leveraged in the marketplace. Gloss sells ...
 

James_H

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Oh, I understand ... That's the feel-good factor I mentioned - a gloss on the communication capabilities that imparts some peripheral measure of personal presence or connection. Once the cost structure for personal video telephony shrank to a feasible level (facilitated as much by networking / bandwidth capabilities as anything else ... ) it could finally be leveraged in the marketplace. Gloss sells ...
I'd also argue that the image adds another dimension to communication, just as a voice-only telephone has more communicative potential than say a telegraph or text messaging (arguably). For another example, I've been teaching some private students via Skype since this whole virus scare started – a voice telephone would be much less effective in this case.
 

EnolaGaia

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I'd also argue that the image adds another dimension to communication, just as a voice-only telephone has more communicative potential than say a telegraph or text messaging (arguably). For another example, I've been teaching some private students via Skype since this whole virus scare started – a voice telephone would be much less effective in this case.
Yep ... The relative balance between video-helping versus video-hindering is best in one-to-many (e.g., lecture) and one-on-one interactions. Even in these best case scenarios the balance can be upset depending on the degree to which additional data (text; images) are or can be shared without disrupting the interactional flow.
 

James_H

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I'd say so far this has been the year of the videophone. I've had lessons, meetings, birthday parties and even a meditation session via video chat in the past few months.
 

Nemo

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It strikes me the other way round – for a hundred years, videocalling was seen as a science-fiction pipe dream on a par with flying cars.
And we're still waitin for flying cars, jet-packs & holidays on the Moon. ;)
 

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Tomorrow’s World promised me all this.
As well as new fucking hyper-curtains and a man who is more machine than man. Screw the moonrock. We need better curtains.
 

Ogdred Weary

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I loved watching Tomorrow's World. One of the best BBC series ever.
They had to kill it, though. Too much stuff they talked about never got heard from again (even though it worked).
I used to watch it as a kid/teen and I onlt recall seeing one device from it on sale, in a shop or catalogue. Sadly don't recall what it was, clearly nothing earth shattering or I'd remember.
 

eburacum

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Well, I've never made so many video calls as I have this month; at least one a day, often two or three. I notice that the camera usually shows a very unflattering view up your nose. This is what photographers used to call the problem of converging verticals - everyone has a big chin and small forehead, because the camera is low down on your lap. I don't expect E.M. Forster predicted that.
 

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Above and beyond the obvious technical and economic issues that had to be overcome, there was an even bigger problem - i.e., that video adds little or nothing to one-on-one or group-to-group 2-way communications. In other words, resistance to video telephony / video conferencing had as much or more to do with usability / usefulness as with feasibility or affordability.
As someone who - like I suspect many on here - has endured what seems like several months of Zoom etc conferences in the past few weeks, it does add the element of knowing when people want to say something. Blind (ie audio-only) conference calls are 75% people talking over one another, saying "no, you go first", and silence.

The downside is, of course, the need to at least put some trousers on.
 

Analogue Boy

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How did you know, though?

Unless you are as well, of course. It does help, doesn't it?
I got the idea from the energy crisis of the 70‘s when people were cooking fish in tinfoil on top of their car engines on the way home from work. I thought everyone was heating kippers under their bums in these lockdown days.
 

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Mind you. I use my microwave for popcorn so as far as I’m concerned all bets are off.
 

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Essay about The machine Stops.

In 1909, long before the invention of the World Wide Web or the prospect of a world where we must live socially distant from each other, the English writer E.M. Forster arguably predicted both. Each idea appears—in its own way—in one of Forster’s most curious short stories, “The Machine Stops.”

All the more remarkable was the fact that Forster was not a science-fiction writer; “The Machine Stops” would be his only entry in the genre. Still, that Forster dabbled in the genre wasn’t really that surprising, given his range as a writer, from his more realistic novels of social critique, like A Room with a View and Howards End, to his posthumously published narrative of queer desire, Maurice, or his more fantastical stories, like “The Celestial Omnibus.” Forster delighted in moments of fantasy in his fiction, and so, in some ways, “The Machine Stops” was right up his aesthetic alley.

“The Machine Stops” would become famous a century after its publication for supposedly having envisioned technologies like social media—and the dangers thereof—long before they appeared. In particular, it predicted computer interfaces and programs like Skype that would allow us to communicate with people across the globe without leaving our rooms. People live in isolation in chambers, where they can call up music and real-time video-chatting at a click; the Earth’s surface is, authorities declare, uninhabitable, so people are advised to stay in their cozy rooms, which everyone has adapted to as their standard for normality. In these ways, the story seems chillingly prescient, capturing dim-but-definite elements of the world we inhabit today, like an astronomer peering through a faintly clouded lens. ...

https://lithub.com/how-e-m-forsters-only-foray-into-sci-fi-predicted-social-distancing/
 
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