“Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me, I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Routine acts influenced by this new era of rapidly growing technology have created habits which turn our world into one that’s always talking, just like Bradbury writes about in his renowned fictional society from the book Fahrenheit 451. His world is a fast-paced society with fast cars, wall-sized televisions, seashells (ear-buds), electronic surveillance, and people paying more attention to the screens around them than physical life. This book that was published over fifty years ago made realistic predictions of our current day; it makes one ponder exactly how fictional Bradbury’s world is. Could elements of this world other than technology–such as relationship dynamics and ideals–have also been predicted in his book?
Not unlike the apathetic relationship between the main character, Guy Montag, and his wife, Mildred, of the book Fahrenheit 451, an overuse of technology has been seen to negatively alter what might other-wise be healthy relationships. We’ve even gotten to the point where children are forced to compete with technology for attention since many parents neglect to give their children enough. When, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, “young people ages 8 to 18 now spend nearly every waking moment when they are not in school using media”, family members are propelled to screens for entertainment and company: everyone is growing more and more detached from reality. This is very much in the same way that Mildred, Montag’s wife, becomes. She frequently blocks out the world as described here:
“And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time” (Bradbury 76)
Some irony resides in the unnatural manner in which she blocks out the world around her. The characters call them seashells, but their function is anything but natural. It even gets to a point where Montag can barely maintain a relationship with his wife because of it.
As well, Bradbury’s story predicts the dumbing-down of society through the media which is channeled through excessive use of unavoidable screens. At one particular point in the book Mildred and a couple of her friends are discussing politics and how they decide who to vote for. How do they choose who to elect? Based on appearance, they choose whoever looks best. In a way, doesn’t that resemble how we pick who our leaders are, how they appear? Though many people fact-check political candidates and the ads that represent them, a large majority still believe what they are told. So, if one candidate has more negative ads against the other candidate, their odds of winning might just be a tad higher. Even if a candidate physically appears more attractive or trustworthy to the general public they also gain positive reputation for that.
Lastly, in Bradbury’s book, the world emanates apathy as if all the technology has sucked up all emotional quality like a vacuum. People do not want to feel. People like Mildred would rather block out the world and block out their feelings, barricading any harm from getting to them whilst barricading any positive emotions as well. There has been a decrease in sincerity in our world too. Subtle feelings like the hesitant, fearful feeling of actually calling someone screams of the decrease in the willingness to converse directly. There lacks voice inflection and facial expression in texting or chatting, to hint at the true intent of the speaker; it breaks stable foundations of sincerity, leaving us wondering whether or not the person means what they “say”. Recognition of genuine sincerity is lost, what it means is lost, and what it’s worth to give full time and attention to another individual is lost. With it we may possibly lose most quality of all emotion.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953. Print
“Is Technology Ruining the English Language?” Destruction –. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2014.
Richtel, Matt. Reading from paper versus screens: a critical review of the empirical literature. The New York Times. June 7, 2010. www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0