I want to just pass on what I consider some of the best direct quotes I’ve seen in a review of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451 which was published in 1953, yet now, so close and apt a description of today’s world of “reading”.
The full review that I am quoting only in part, may be found here:
Set in the not-so-distant American future, the novel depicts a society that “dreads the unfamiliar” and so bans books and makes “the word ‘intellectual'” into “the swear word it deserved to be” (58). Books were not initially banned because of state censorship, but by the effects of advancements in media technology and a waning public interest in critical thinking. As the Fire Captain Beatty explains, the decline of a book reading public coincided with mass population booms, an accelerated sense of time, and the popularization of television and film.
Picture it. Nineteenth century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your cameras. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.
Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!” (55)
Media today, in the latter portion of 2016 certainly fits Beatty’s “Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom!” If you’re tired of reading it, imagine how tiring it is to try to get more than that out of people who’s lives are spent staring at a cell phone. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Apple took Montag’s world and his friend, Faber’s hand sized screen and created what has taken over people’s lives. How odd it is at my age, a person who grew up in the 60’s running around in the sunshine for fun, to see two friends sitting side by side saying nothing, because they are both busy either “texting” each other or “texting” whomever. This is not just some older person snubbing younger people either. I’ve seen people my age and older do it.
What people don’t seem to realize is that having a phone on one’s hip, as it were (or in one’s purse) is a way of feeling VERY IMPORTANT. But it is not a sign of being very important. There’s a big difference between a “feeling” and “being”. You may “feel” good at archery until you’re on the field with many other archers and realize you don’t feel good at all anymore, in fact, compared to them, you “feel” downright bad at archery. Which one is correct? Neither. Both are merely feelings associated with judgements your brain makes depending on circumstances. The fact in this scenario is merely that you do practice archery. And that is doing. Not feeling. Being someone who practices archery. That’s much different than someone who has never practiced archery playing a video game of archery who ‘FEELS’ like they are archers. They aren’t. Not like someone who actually goes out on a range and practices archery, or actually hunts using archery. Big difference.
And things are much worse than Bradbury’s “dystopian” insight on how American society would become less substantive: we’ve lost our true pride and substituted it with a cheap knock off personal pocket version of pride. Instead of having earned pride as a society with top schools and universities, we’re to have that vacancy filled with the pride of how often our iPhone or Smart Phone goes off, signalling how much we are “needed”.
The truth is, one overly needy friend can make you look “very important” at the same rate a single mother temporarily away from her sick child is very important. Except that single mother IS, and the person with the overly needy friend isn’t. There’s no way to know that unless you’re in on the texted conversation. So everyone, regardless of their actual situation in life, can not only “look” important, but FEEL important. Feeling is nothing compared to doing. If you’ve ever had a real accomplishment in your life (beyond just being an adult or reaching a certain age) you know the difference between feeling and being or doing.
So, why would this be bad? I can think of several things. Attention span is so crippled that many more people are being identified as suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, otherwise known as A.D.D. And while that is not only a real thing, it’s a painful thing to live with both for the sufferer as well as those close to him or her, it’s not always what is going on. Diagnoses are sometimes false. My guess is that one big reason for a false diagnosis of A.D.D. is this “snap, bang, boom, click” culture we now find ourselves living in. The fact that I have friends who read whole books, but who can’t seem to read past the headline of an article shared on a social media site such as Facebook, is to me, evidence of how it can make people who otherwise do not have A.D.D. act as if they did.
That’s bad. Why? There is suffering that goes with the facade of A.D.D. as well as the real thing. The suffering is a sort of brain starvation. It would be like expecting yourself to live on nothing but potato chips and water, instead of being able to sit down to a meal you can really get your teeth in with meat included. There is no meat in just a headline. And while emojis are fun, they are hot air compared to body language and tone of voice not to mention what the face says about a person’s true emotion, not just what they want you to see.
Great book. Well worth the read. Also, one hundred fifty nine pages is not long. You get a lot of “bang” for your buck.