Change the future? Oops, too late!

Here we are, jovially ensconced in the 21st century, wondering what the hell the future will look like. And, if you’re like me, the older you get the more you contemplate but the less you care. I look at the young, future leaders of our great country and figure that people will always get the government they deserve…in a democracy, which after the Citizens United decision we may not be.

I was thinking about Ray Bradbury’s book “Fahrenheit 451” the other day because it is in fact a book about the future a few hundred years hence. Bradbury, a known conservative, has written some of the most challenging yet accessible fiction of the twentieth century and if you’ve not read him at all I recommend starting with “Fahrenheit 451”, which can be found in PDF format here. I don’t mean to screw Ray’s offspring out of any royalties, but it would be painfully ironic if you read the book and never bought a paper and ink edition.

Bradbury considers life in 24th century America. The lead character, Montag, is a fireman. But in the future that doesn’t mean he puts out fires; technology has provided burn proof dwellings. Montag’s job is to ride the fire truck to homes harboring books, removing the books and throwing them in a big pile and turning his flame-thrower of a hose on them to incinerate them. Books are believed to bring confusion and sadness into a culture that demands nearly nothing of its citizens except their unthinking loyalty.

While Montag is off burning books that have been safely hidden for decades, maybe centuries, his wife Mildred spends her days happily in their home, which has walls that are actually enormous video screens. And as she watches her little soap-opera-ish dramas, the characters occasionally turn to her and ask her opinion. She gets flustered; so much riding on her opinion! She believes her answers are critical to the other characters and hopes her responses promote harmony and a sense of well being to her friends on screen. And if only Montag could make more money, she could afford another “wall”. There would be more characters for her to spend time with, increasing the possibilities of her “meaningful” interactions with each wall!

And then I thought of “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Biggest Loser,” yadda, yadda, yadda, and the shear drama created by asking all of the viewers for their vote, to voice their opinion. Everyone watching the show is eligible to fully participate in these very important matters, such as which celebrity and amateur waltzes or cha-chas better than the others, with all the relevance that carries to our 21st century culture.

And I was reminded of an announcement that Panasonic has introduced a 152” 3D flat screen TV. That’s over 10 feet of wall space, folks. In 3D.

And my friend Val talks to her Apple iPhone, which has her personal assistant, Siri available 24/7. She can ask Siri anything and Siri will respond, generally with relevance. And it will call her by name.

Ray Bradbury said his story isn’t about censorship and I believe him. It’s something more pervasive and much less controversial. As Wikipedia summarizes it, it’s “a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context.”

I’d like to take a cheap shot at Fox News right now, but they didn’t invent this style of reporting and God knows they’re not the only one belching out news without context. Today’s news is us vs. them, black vs. white, right vs wrong, God vs god. No background, no sense of history or research, just visceral statements to push you into whichever corner the media’s provider represents.

Are the Occupy New York people smelly, out-of-work cry-babies who want to take all of your money? Or are they the voice of disenchanted America, still bruised from the beating inflicted by the financial movers and shakers? I know that you already have an opinion about which description fits the Occupy folks based on the facts as you understand them, given to you by the only media source you believe is credible, without any burdensome thought or research.

With the availability of tablet (e.g. iPad) computers and infinite information in the palm of our hands, will our understanding of the world begin to improve, allowing us to form intelligent opinions based on our own reading and understanding? Probably not. While the media from Vogue to Truthout scramble to provide content for your tablet, research shows 74% of tablet usage is playing games or engaging in social media. Mildred would understand. Even a fiction writer like Bradbury couldn’t envision the vacuousness the digital age would deliver just years after his fable was published.

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Captain Beatty, “Fahrenheit 451”

We’re leaving fiction behind to knowingly choose the ugliness it portrayed for our destiny. Bradbury’s nightmare has become our dream and we embrace it greedily, happily and without any sense of regret.



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I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring.
My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife.
Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.