GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

Ray Bradbury inspired technology but also warned against it

It was sad to hear of the death of Ray Bradbury, a great writer and visionary. He had been ill for a long time, so this wasn’t unexpected, but it was sad news nonetheless.

When other kids were reading “Tom Sawyer,” I was more into “Fahrenheit 451,” about a world in which books were outlawed and burned when found (the title, as all know now, refers to the temperature at which paper catches fire).

One of the most interesting aspects of his writing was his ability to predict the future. I love how the characters in “Fahrenheit 451,” written in 1953, sport thimble-sized radios and ear-sized communication devices. Kind of sounds like those little Bluetooth headsets, doesn't it?

Of course he didn’t get everything right. In “Fahrenheit 451,” the world was centered around televisions. That’s OK. Very few writers of books or even TV shows predicted how popular the Internet would become, even in the years right before the Web really began to take off and change life as we know it.

The “Max Headroom” show got it wrong in 1987, depicting a world where TV was king and the Internet didn’t really exist. And that was a pretty cool show, one which I may have accidentally patterned my life after, with its one super-nerdy character working out of a secret lab somewhere inside the Network 23 building.

So Bradbury can be forgiven for that. You really can’t know the Internet until you’ve actually seen it, I guess.

Even if he didn’t get everything right all the time, he poked the imagination of a whole generation of aspiring techies. We read his work and strove to create it in real life.

Bradbury's importance was evident in the statement released by the White house Press Office, in which President Barack Obama is quoted as saying, “For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury's death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values. There is no doubt that Ray will continue to inspire many more generations with his writing, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

In his later years, I fear he may have started to turn against technology a little bit. Perhaps he was afraid of a world he predicted but then didn’t fully understand, or he could have been worried about a future where technology hindered us more than it helped. He wrote about just such a thing in the story “The Pedestrian,” where he described people in a technological world (again ruled by TV) as being “alone, together.”

He wouldn’t even allow my favorite of his works, “Fahrenheit 451,” to go onto my Kindle until last year, because he hated e-books. The only reason he ultimately agreed to it was because it was time to renew his contract and no publisher would sign a deal without an e-book component.

In fact, he had a warning about technology. Shortly before his death he was quoted as saying, “We have too many cell phones. We've got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.”

Ironically, he seemed to be advocating a “Fahrenheit 451” situation, but one where we saved the books and burned computers, though I would guess at a much higher temperature since we would be melting steel. So perhaps it was a Fahrenheit 1,000 situation.

I won’t be melting my computers down anytime soon, but technology is a part of our lives partially because of Bradbury’s inspiration. So perhaps we might want to heed his warnings before we take things too far. In any case, the world is a little worse off without him, and he will be missed. Godspeed, Ray. And thanks for the great stories.

 

Reader Comments

Fri, Sep 14, 2012

ha! ha!

Thu, Jun 28, 2012 searchlight Richardson, Texas

Social media, while much maligned, actually can increase connectedness in a disconnected world. Facebook is my favorite way to keep in touch daily with my children and grandchildren, and the pictures and videos are a real bonus. Sometimes there is too much information given, but better too much than not enough.

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 SoutheastUS

The commentor stating that "No one carrying a smart phone is observing the world around them anymore." may not be entirely correct. Some folks looking like they are texting may actually be using the outward facing camera on their phone to take candid photos of people nearby. Creepy? Yes. Disconnected? Maybe, maybe not.

Mon, Jun 11, 2012

I couldn't agree with you (and Ray) more, Charles! "Alone together" describes it perfectly. No one carrying a smart phone is observing the world around them anymore.

Mon, Jun 11, 2012

I think there are a lot of people who look at Ray Bradbury's works without thinking about the broader implications. What is "alone, together," if it isn't a couple teens texting each other over their cell phones? This was the cause of an accident wherein my pickup truck stopped at the back of a traffic jam got bent in two when three teen girls in a subcompact forgot they were moving at 60 mph. Even now I don't advocate specific laws about cell phones. Careless driving is already on the books in every state and territory, and if you're texting while driving, another law isn't going to make a difference. Bradbury said we have too many cell phones, but he didn't say it was the responsibility of government - he said "we," not "the government." How is the internet obviated by Fahrenheit 451? When you walk into a video appliance store, they're going to tout their 60" screen and how it has internet connectivity to stream games and television cable shows. They may even talk about the home theater advantages of 200 channels and 6000 on-demand movies being projected onto the wall. Or make the wall out of a large LCD. That sounds just as visionary to me as the current Transportation Secretary saying we need to have cell tower blocking signals at every intersection, and let's not forget domestic unmanned aerial surveillance adapted from the Predator, and sold to police departments and government agencies of every stripe. Then there are the microwave radar vehicles that can scan your house from the street. That's a whole series of scenes right out of Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury wasn't saying let's not have technology - he was saying that increased capabilities include increased vulnerabilities, and that we should be on our toes when the "Fire Department" claims they need a new surveillance camera or sensor, or that the Police Department staff "don't need no stinking" warrants.*

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