Thursday, January 5, 2012

Call the firemen! There are books to be burned!

Last night, I finished reading "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. This was one of the most prophetic books that I have read in a long time. Bradbury wrote this book during the Cold War in the early 1950s. The novel presents a future American society where reading is outlawed and firemen start fires to burn books. Now you may be asking why I found this so prophetic. We don't ban reading in this country.

"Fahrenheit 451" focuses on a man named Guy Montag who is a fireman in charge of burning books in a grim, futuristic United States. The book opens with a brief description of the pleasure he experiences while on the job one evening. He wears a helmet emblazoned with the numeral 451 (the temperature at which paper burns), a black uniform with a salamander on the arm, and a “phoenix disc” on his chest. As we later learn, Montag’s society has abandoned books in favor of hollow, frenetic entertainment and instant gratification.

Bradbury describes a world where technology has replaced actual human contact for most of the people in this futuristic society. At several points in the book, Montag's wife refers to the people on her interactive TV parlor walls (which have been written with one part missing, so that the viewer can read those lines and feel a part of the action on screen) as her “family” and values their company much more than Montag's. Programming on the TV parlor walls is shallow, lacks any type of depth, and has destroyed her attention span, and now she can hardly even comprehend what is going on in the programs she watches.

I was enthralled as I read this book by how much of Bradbury's futuristic society resembled our current world. With large screen TVs in most households, iPods in most ears, and video game consoles galore, our society is slowly becoming more and more like the world that Bradbury describes in his book. When you add the massive number of plotless reality programming on television these days, I can see yet another prophetic description from this novel coming true. We live in a world where people are more concerned about what happens to the Kardashians than their own families. Talk around the water cooler in offices is more about the latest episode of the Bachelor than about our own families and lives. We are losing our personal relationships to superficial conversation.

As I type this blog on my iPad and prepare to post it, I wonder if our technology, as wonderful as it is, may be destroying our intellectual thought processes. Our desire for instant news, entertainment, and information is creating a world not unlike the one described in "Fahrenheit 451". We live in world where some people find there claim to fame to be that they have 500 friends on Facebook. Yet, those same people don't even know their neighbor's name.

What is my point? I don't know if I really have one. I just know that Bradbury's book seems eerily familiar. Too familiar. If you are looking for a good book to read, pick this one up. I think you will be amazed at how well Bradbury describes current society. Then you will remember that he wrote his book over 60 years ago.