Fahrenheit 451 depicts a sobering, dystopian world of the future, but is Ray Bradbury’s world as fictional as we think it is? Are we making it come true?
By Abby Donnelly
The human brain is an infinitely malleable system. We can train our brains to act and react in certain ways, unwittingly even. Since the rise of smartphones and mobile internet, everything we read has been condensed to the most efficient and immediate means of informing. We perhaps read more today on our devices than we read when television was the medium of choice, but it’s what we’re reading that may be altering our minds. Most everything we read on our phones has been desiccated, leaving us the bare minimum, with the sole purpose of immediate satisfaction. We get the raisins of information. This differs immensely from a time when reading novels was our main source of amusement. This is why it has become grueling for people to sit down and dive into rich, deep, literature (Carr). Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, claims,“We are not only what we read,” but instead, “We are how we read.” This purports that our constant reading for instantaneous pleasure is completely disengaging our ability to interpret text and make, “rich mental connections” (qtd. in Carr).
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the characters live with what can be assumed is a totalitarian government — one which teaches a different morality. They teach their people that technology trumps nature, and anything that we would think to be natural (such as socializing with our family members or reading books) is out of the norm. The government teaches their people this ideology through controlled knowledge that they achieve by eliminating any type of individualistic thinking and by implanting the idea that machines can tend to every need. In accomplishing this, there would be no need for any human relation and their society would function as a well-oiled machine. We are not so different from that world. Although we don’t have a totalitarian government teaching us that black is white and vice versa, we willingly submit ourselves to continuous hours of The Walking Dead without thought. Oh, the irony: we watch zombies while turning into them.
Yet who are we to declare this fictional world of technology-dependence bad? Most of the characters in Fahrenheit 451 seem to think their society is doing just fine. They all have been taught that books are bad and that talking to their interactive walls is something any normal human being would do. To their knowledge, firefighters are heroic men who burn books to ashes before the dangerous information can spread to anyone else. Montag, who is a firefighter himself as well as the main character of the book, begins to reject some of these views after Clarisse, his new neighbor, invites, him to think for himself. The more they speak, the more Montag notices this technologic parasite growing in many of the people around him. He asks his wife, whose daily routine includes playing a scripted part with a “family” on her interactive walls, “Will you turn the parlour off?” To which she replies, “That’s my family.” This is significant because it shows that she has come to appreciate her pixilated family more than she appreciates the genuine love and family that is right in front of her.
Though most don’t have interactive walls, the dependency Montag’s wife feels for her pseudo-family can be directly related to our dependency on our phones. In a research essay, Farasha Bashir states quite simply, “This lack of human interaction leads to a more reclusive and less productive society, as relationships and a sense of cohesion and connectedness are the fundamental principles of a functioning society.” When so much of our attention is focused on keeping up with social media and reading terse clips of news articles, we tend to ignore what’s happening in the non-pixelated world.
Technology is a menacing tool that can latch on to us and become a part of our everyday lives. Given, not all technology is dangerous or bad, but it has the ability to be. It’s nearly impossible for a person to resist the urge to check his phone when there’s a whole team of people behind that screen making sure he does. This is what makes technology so dangerous ― it’s irresistible. Naturally, technology keeps us wanting more, but it simultaneously causes collateral damage to the connections our minds make. We rely on our devices to inform us of what we should be thinking about, who we need to reply to, and whom we should be friends with. It’s like a brain implant that constantly sends pulses. To sum it up, “we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us” (Bosker).
If we continue with our blasé ways, we could inadvertently inherit the same social ideology that is practiced in Fahrenheit 451 and let technology gain the upper-hand.
The people in Bradbury’s book accept that their lives are to be centered around all things mechanical. They don’t even question it. It is the ideology they have been taught throughout their lives. Ideology is a social theory that gives “evildoing” a “justification” (Solzhenitsyn). It’s a way of visionary theorizing or, in plain, making social assertions about culture and human life. Surely the people of this world wouldn’t be living the way they were had they not believed it was right. This is described perfectly in saying, “To do evil, a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions” (Solzhenitsyn). Though the thought of getting overridden by technology may be appalling to us, in the minds of these people it was a normal manifestation.
Even now, as I sit here typing my ideas on my laptop, wearing headphones, which are connected to my cellphone, I notice how entirely immersed I am. This shows just how easy it is to fall into the technological trap. It’s fascinating to observe how prevalent devices are. No matter where you are, you will find someone browsing social media on their phone, watching “the game” on TV, or even typing on a computer about how technology is controlling our lives.
If we step back and look at the way we live and how this new generation is already living, we can draw a few conclusions to how our ideology is changing. The outcome of this change is unpredictable, but if we continue with our blasé ways, we could inadvertently inherit the same social ideology that is practiced in Fahrenheit 451 and let technology gain the upper-hand. It has become acceptable to be plugged in all the time and we don’t even realize what this mental seclusion is doing to us. I wouldn’t go as far as predicting book-burning any time soon, but as our older generations of people diminish, so does the drive to open our minds to extensive amounts of information. With all the knowledge and know-how we may ever need stored in hard drives, some may begin to question the requisite of real education. Is technology to blame for this? Or is it our alacrity to let it control our lives? The good news is the brain is the most masterful hard drive of all.
- Bashir, Farasha. “The Dangers of Modern Technology.” Academia.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Bosker, Bianca. “The Binge Breaker.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950. Print.
- Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 20 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
- Harder, Tom. “On to the Next Thing.” Flickr. 8 January 2017.
- Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago I-II. Harper & Row, 1973.