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.


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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