Fahrenheit 451: the book that predicted the future
Science fiction was one genre that I never spent a whole lot of time in. Jules Verne’s work always held a special place in my opinions, as did some of the works of H.G. Wells. Bradbury, however, only made his way into my life through one book. Such was the case for many people. His dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 was his crowning achievement. I picked up the book for the first time in 6th grade, and it enraptured me. I read it a couple other times and came away with more and more. It’s what those big city newspapers would call a “parable of our times.” The book was written in 1951, but takes place a decade or two in our future. At least after 2020. His wishes, as he once said,I weren’t to predict the future, rather to prevent it. A cryptic statement to say the least, but altogether too valid. He saw the road our world was headed to even before it had even happened.
The premise of the book follows the main character, Guy Montag, who is a fireman in the future. His job is to start fires rather than to stop them, more specifically, to burn books. The people of his world were kept in a state of artificial placidity through a carefully designed system that denies them the liberty of self-awareness and thought—substituting instead, fake illusions of thoughts and emotions. This is what I find interesting. Granted, the technology he predicted fascinated most due to their accuracy. His jet cars, air trains, ear pieces, augmented reality, and huge flatscreen Tv’s did not exist in 1950s America, however the most impressive prediction is of our day to day society.
His world lacks consequence. People don’t interact with one another, they’re too absorbed in the technology that surrounds them. Their televisions, their earpieces, even the blaring advertisements. They have more of an emotional connection to the people in the television than they do with the people they live with. After all, “this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush.” What about the suicide rates? People overdosing on government distributed sleeping pills because the constant technology keeps them awake. When they die, who cares? Husbands going off to war, no worries “it’s always someone else’s husband dies.” Of course this is what we’d refer to as some form of “hyperbole,” but if you think about it, when was the last time you talked with a group of people who weren’t on their phones? I hate it when I go out with friends only to watch them text other people. This technology is invading our lives, always listening, always trying to draw you in. Where will we be in ten or twenty years? Will we even remember what it’s like to talk to someone I person? To be able to reach out and touch them? Already it’s hard to keep their attention when you wish to talk to them. Always distracted, always in a hurry to be about their own lives.
And that speed, that quick, hurried, impatient speed with which people live their lives. Two-day shipping isn’t fast enough, 45 miles per hour isn’t fast enough, an appointment next month isn’t fast enough.
“‘Have you seen the two-hundred-foot-long billboards in the country beyond town? Did you know that once billboards were only twenty feet long? But cars started rushing by so quickly they had to stretch the advertising out so it would last.’
‘I didn't know that!’ Montag laughed abruptly.
‘Bet I know something else you don't. There's dew on the grass in the morning.’
He suddenly couldn't remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable. ‘And if you look’-she nodded at the sky-‘there's a man in the moon.’
He hadn't looked for a long time.”
Everyone goes about their lives in a flurry, moving too fast to see the homeless man on the corner, or to see that rare green flash over a setting sun. Technology has become too invasive, too disruptive. There are not enough words in any language to describe what is wrong with society today, but don’t be disheartened. There’s always something good to be seen, something amazing. Just gotta slow down and notice it.
“‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic that any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.'”
I said this once before, and I’ll repeat myself.
This generation has slowly begun to lose interest in history, in things of the past. It’s always about the new phone, the new smart-whatever...sometimes I wonder, fear, what the next few decades will bring. Who will remember all the old things that mattered? Who will remember the great poets? Wordsworth, Whitman, Emerson, Shelley, do we even remember them now? I speak of this generation as if I weren’t a part of it, but I am. It’s my generation, these are my peers. Sometimes I find it too difficult to accept. It bothers me, where we’re headed, things change too fast, move to fast, the digital age has taken us by storm and is starting to sweep away the essence of a strong culture. What are these memes? These web-comics, these temporary trends...and everything...everything is so, so disposable.
I’ve always held Bradbury in high respect. I was never a huge sci-fi fan, never got into star-treck...the Jetsons were cool. I loved Verne, and Wells, will anyone remember them? But Bradbury, he knew, he saw it even it even then. Society slipping. He said himself, he didn’t wish to predict the future, he wished to prevent it. Too bad....his work, among many others will fall away.