by Randy Fairfield, 5/19/15
There are some problems that can arise in a world where technology is becoming increasingly prevalent. In his 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury deals with this very theme in a way that is almost eerie in its accuracy when we look at our society today–particularly in terms of our modern political climate.
Think about how news media outlets these days take the smallest soundbite out of context and make a big headline out of it. Now, consider the following passage was written well over fifty years ago:
“Beatty ignored her and continued: ‘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 mid-air, 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!'”
While Bradbury hits the nail on the head, I don’t think even he could have fully understood how Smart Phones, YouTube clips, and Twitter feeds would reduce our political climate to little more than a whirlwind of soundbites.
Now I’m not a Jeb Bush supporter by any means, but I’ve been seeing everywhere that he callously said, “stuff happens” in response to the recent shooting in Oregon. The comment seemed pretty unbelievable, so do you know what I did? I did the responsible thing, went and found the video, and then watched the comment in context. While I don’t agree with Jeb’s stance on gun control, the amount of attention his comment received makes zero sense when you actually put the comment in context.
Speaking of soundbites, consider the following passage from Fahrenheit 451 and tell me that Ray Bradbury wasn’t a visionary!
“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumour of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.”
While Bradbury’s Fahrenheit was written as a hyperbolic expression of the direction he feared society was heading, doesn’t it in many ways read like an understatement of the direction we’ve gone?
So where are we going? Is there any way to fix the problem? Is there a way to embrace all of the positives that technology has to offer while also recognizing and addressing the issues that come as a result? I don’t have the answers, but I think this spoken-world poetry by Prince EA delivers a powerful message about the way we use technology that every teacher and teen should see and self-reflect on.