It has been about a year ago, but I recently re-read HG Well’s The Time Machine just to remind myself what the story was about. It was one of the many stories I read growing up. At that time, I was probably more fascinated about the technology than the social commentary. Later in my life I probably would have been more interested in the social commentary but I wasn’t in a reading mood at that time.
Now, I lost interest about halfway through the story at about the point where the story was supposed to be interesting. This is like my earlier musings about Moby Dick. In that post, I described how I would have been happy if he had ended the story at the end of the storm but before the sighting of the great white whale. If the story had ended with the storm, the story would not have sold in its day and thus it would not have propagated to us. However if the story had ended with the storm, it would have had meaning today that it wouldn’t have had back then.
I think the same thing happens in this story but in a much more severe sense. At least Melville had a lot to talk about before the storm. I can’t imaging how H G Wells could have come up with anything comparable to that. The remaining fragment would barely fill a blog post. But I do delight in that fragment.
The fragment I’m thinking about is the basic introduction of the triad of the Eloi, Morlocks, and the crumbling evidence of a prior civilization that made the current one possible. My imagined fragment ends before the introduction of the conflict between the two living groups. Prior to that revelation, there were two groups, one that was busy keeping the machinery of the world running and the other busy consuming the fruits of that machinery. Implicitly there was a third group and that was the lost civilization evidenced by the crumbling no longer used buildings and artifacts.
The description of the Eloi as having limited attention span and with brief relationships between each other. If one of them gets in trouble, there is no particular urgency to come to the rescue, as if the brief period between being safe to being in danger exceeds their attention span. They generally live their lives contently overall but also have some kind of unexplained fear.
Again I am ending the fragment before the explanation of that fear. That explanation was essential for the readers of the time. But leaving that explanation out would have made a much more interesting story today. I can imagine the time traveler returning to his dinner party provoking a discussion with the guests about what that fear could have been for creatures so well taken care of by a perfected world. A boring story for Wells’ age, but a great story for today.
In contrast there is the description of the Morlocks living in a dark underworld with the focus of their keeping the world running. Of particular interest to me is that they have lost their ability to invent new things. They are instead excellent at keeping old things repaired and running. There is a sense that they too are satisfied with their lives.
Both groups are satisfied and neither is envious of the other.
Another group figured prominently in this future world. That is the lost civilization. The implication that they are truly lost and will never return is not really settled until later when the time traveler goes even further into the future. Certainly this more creative civilization was only visible through their abandoned buildings. If the story ends before the discovery of the nature of the relationship between Morlocks and Eloi, then there is sufficient ambiguity to allow for a hidden civilization who does the creative stuff to introduce advances. Again, I imagine the returning time traveler to discuss this possibility with his dinner partners.
I imagine the story being ambiguous with many competing theories as can be expected from the different personalities of the dinner party. The discussions could themselves make a fascinating story. This speculative discussion could complete a great story left with an ambiguous ending because it leaves us free to imagine being one of the dinner party.
I imagine myself being in that party on hearing the story in the truncated form that I outlined above. There is no explanation of what makes this future world work. I’ll take the personality that is inclined to believe the traveler really did travel to the future and really did return. What do I make of this future culture?
The image that comes to my mind is the analogy of the data driven world that I see ourselves entering.
I can see the Eloi as the analysts of data reports. They do their daily jobs harvesting the ripened fruit from the working data systems. Their jobs are motivated by a general sense of concern about some imagined fear. Their jobs are important and they are happy doing their jobs consuming the fruits of the data system.
The Morlocks are the ones who keep the data system technologies running. They are operators and software developers who are responsible to keep the data system meeting the defined requirements.
The requirements come from the largely inaccessible creative civilization. Their existence is known primarily because they left the requirement or blueprints for the overall data systems. In my telling, this civilization still exists and is crucial for the continued success of the project. The Morlocks and Eloi mostly just ignore them.
In this data system analogy, this inaccessible and ignored group are the data scientists, the ones who understand the entire process from the observed data of what is observable to the refined data that the Morlock’s systems refine and that the Eloi use.
What is distinctive about this story is that this third group is invisible. The only evidence it exists at all is they the left the instructions and the crumbling artifacts of prior works. We don’t see that they are currently busy working on new things or improvements.
This distinction is that that this third group is not visible. This third group is not the extremely wealthy corporate chiefs or the extremely powerful politicians. Such groups would be visible. I guess I could invent a fourth group to include the extremely wealthy and powerful where this is the group that provides the motivation for the Eloi and Morlocks. After all, that motivation is is in the context of something being feared. What better source of fear than the wealthy and powerful. However, this group is not very interesting outside of its being the source of motivation for the project.
Returning to the third inaccessible group, this group is invisible because it is not appreciated. In an earlier post, I described the idea of the difference of pursuing a career and pursuing an income. I made a case that there are many rewarding careers that can not command much income. The cases I presented in health care and education concerned the problem of delivering extensive services to individuals who despite their appreciation simply have limited means to compensate for those services.
I see now an opportunity to follow up that post with other meaningful careers that also lack income opportunities but for the opposite reason. These careers deliver extensive services to groups (corporations or governments) that could afford to pay more. The problem is that these clients don’t appreciate the value of the contributions. The careers are meaningful and have livable incomes, but they will not have huge incomes. These careers can be highly specialized so that there is little if any labor competition. The problem is that the clients don’t value the work much beyond a minimally sustainable income.
In this group, I place the data scientists. As I mentioned in many earlier posts, data scientist is similar to all of the specialties of what I call historical sciences: the sciences that confront historical data. Although I made the connection with formal sciences such as history, archaeology, anthropology, etc, I also include the practices of criminal investigators, medical diagnostics (prior to treatment), auditors, financial analysts, etc.
These are the careers that provide the knowledge that informs the requirements for the Morlocks to build a data system that the Eloi will read. Data science careers are largely quiet and invisible. They are not celebrated. Most of the time the Morlocks and Eloi go about their lives without thinking much at all about the data scientists.
When allowed to do their work, the data scientists are content to devote their time to the wealth of issues involving data for the entire path from the observations to the conclusions that can be supported by that data. All the Morlocks and Eloi need are the instructions.
There is a dynamic between the invisible data scientist and the celebrated wealthy and powerful. Just as the Morlocks and Eloi (in my truncated telling of their story) are concerned only with each other, the data scientists and celebrated wealthy or powerful are concerned with each other.
The data scientists scrutinize the wealth and power. The wealthy or powerful seek to evade the data scientists. Perhaps that is another reason why the data scientists are so under-appreciated.
Again, this is in context of the after dinner conversation on hearing a truncated ambiguous tale from the returning time traveler. I can imagine many other competing theories. That telling would have made a great story.