All this reading and talk about our fickle attention spans, the advent of various technologies, the power of the internet, the Church of Google, and the inefficiency of memorization nowadays, well, it all got me to thinking about Fahrenheit 451. For those of you who haven’t read it (or don’t remember it well, heh) Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian future work about a time when books are outlawed and “firemen” burn all books they find. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman, and befriends a young girl named Clarisse who is a subversive in her embrace of nature vs. technology, and asking “why” instead of “how” to the chagrin of her peers and teachers in school. Quite the opposite, Mildred, Montag’s wife, is portrayed as being under a spell that characterizes the society at the time: She’s addicted to sleeping pills as well as the shallow dramas that she watches on television, and the feed she regularly listens to through her earbuds. Two major themes stand out: resistance to conformity, and control of individuals via mass media and technology.
I think of Fahrenheit 451 in the context of Don Tapscott’s quote in The Shallows: “Memorizing long passages or historical facts is obsolete” because it’s all a click away on Google. We all live out this reality, especially now as students, and the realization of this actually worries me. As powerhouses of technology like Google expand their reach and benefit exponentially from our usage (read: dependence), who is actually in control of the information that is said to be ours collectively? Are we as a society becoming Mildred? Is journalism going the way of Mildred’s form of entertainment? Or are there still Clarisses and Guy Montags (Journalists doing journalism? Snowden?) out there, or are they becoming a minority?