My son and I have recently finished Fahrenheit 451 in our literature studies. Today we discussed how Ray Bradbury's 1953 predictions for the future were in many ways, eerily spot-on. Have you read the book? I'll never forget when I first read the book four years ago. I was emotionally moved by the accuracy in future gadgetry...and the foreseeable results.
Earbuds...quite similar to today. Um, is anyone listening or interacting with the real people around them anymore?
Four-walled interactive televisions. I'm reminded of Parade of Home Tours in Texas where there were flat screen tvs in the media room, family room, kitchen, patio, masterbedroom, and master bathroom! Today viewers can phone-in votes to a televsion show that is instantly graphed on the show. Skype allows immediate face-to-face interaction during television shows. Wii games provide the ultimate interaction with a television environment, minus the reality. It's all perception. While not all of this is bad, how much is beneficial?
Media immersion has so consumed society in Fahrenheit 451, that people no longer think for themselves. Montag's wife is consumed with her "television family" day and night. Unable to sleep, she takes sleeping pills, then overdoses without realizing it, requiring the services of unmedically qualified personnel to remedy the situation. There are too many cases to keep pace with. It is common problem. Routine. Ho hum. Hire the masses to deal with the situation. She'll never remember the treatment and will continue through life comatosely involved with her television family, returning to her sleeping pills at night. Life goes on...or does it?
When my kids were little, I saw how brain numb they'd become after watching a few television shows or a movie. Quickly I started limiting all media input and had them do more hands-on creativity and outdoor activities, along with reading books to them, all of which would stimulate their brains. Mongtag, the fireman, meets Clarisse who challenges him to think, ponder, imagine...even taste the rain. "And she ran off and left him standing there in the rain. Only after a long time did he move. And then, very slowly, as he walked, he tilted his head back in the rain, for just a few moments, and opened his mouth..." (p24)
The sole duty of firemen in this society is to burn down the houses that illegally harbor books that allow people to think and debate. Debate is bad, so censor the books. Interestingly, every book and author mentioned in this controlled society is on the Great Books list of Classical works: Plato's Republic, Gulliver's Travels, Schopenhauer, Einstein, Schweitzer, Aristophanes, Jefferson, Lincoln, Machiavelli, Paine, the Bible.
Concurrently we've been reading the true story of Brother Andrew in God's Smuggler, who in the 1950's and 1960's smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. These countries, of course, were run by dictatorships who did not want people to think for themselves. Thinking is dangerous to tyrannists.
In both the Communist countries of Cold War reality, and for Montag and others in Fahrenheit 451, the Bible was the turning point to freedom.
"Montag's hands picked up the Bible...'Would you like to own this?' Faber said, 'I'd give my right arm.'" (p88)
"'What have you to offer?'
'Nothing. I thought I had part of the Book of Ecclesiastes and maybe a little of Revelation, but I haven't even that now.'
'The book of Ecclesiastes would be fine. Where is it?'
'Here," Montag touched his head.
'Ah.' Granger smiled and nodded.
'What's wrong? Isn't that all right? said Montag.
'Better than all right; perfect!...If anything should happen to Harris, you are the Book of Ecclesiastes. See how important you've become in the last minute!'" (pp150-151)
Media devices have consumed our present day society, whereas academics is losing ground. Here is an NBC News report on "students who don't know much about US History." Sadly, I'm not surprised. One top notch college my son visited last summer required only one year of high school history.
How eerily does Fahrenheit 451 fit into our lives today? How consumed are we by technology and media? Are we reading? Are we thinking? Are we reading Classics from the Great Books list that make us think...that cause us to yearn to think...and taste the raindrops?