By Steve Zoski, Daily Arts Writer
Published June 11, 2012
On Tuesday, the world-renowned science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, died at the age of 91. I learned of Bradbury's death through Facebook statuses and Twitter posts. Like many, I knew Bradbury because I was required to read his most well-known novel, “Fahrenheit 451” (named for the temperature at which paper ignites) in high school. My 10th grade English class read it in the spring of 2007, just a few months before I would use Facebook for the first time.
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Life was simpler then, and instead of spending time on Facebook, I spent time reading books. Instead of status updates or Wikipedia entries, I would read hundreds of pages.
Now, five years later Facebook has become a more integral part of our lives than I could ever have imagined. In those five years, parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents have all gone from being hesitant about putting their information on the internet, to becoming the most enthusiastic and active web users I know; headlines are far less read than tweets.
Ray Bradbury, as far as I know, did not have a Facebook or Twitter account. Maybe he was too old for it; maybe he considered his remaining time on the Earth too precious for liking, poking and Farmville invites. Or maybe, he just wanted to spend more time with his beloved books.
Born in 1920, Bradbury had seen many mediums — newspapers, vinyl records, 8-tracks, cassettes and DVDs — rise to the top like a hot new band, enjoying popularity and then receding until cooler, better groups come along. Newspapers have given way to online news (which studies have shown are more skimmed over than print articles) and Vinyl enjoys a small resurgence only out of nostalgia and hipster-fetishes. Popularity is fleeting.
Printed books are less popular than ever, and people seem to prefer television adaptations and movies. Most of my friends choose to watch “Game of Thrones” over reading “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Optimists like to think that even if printed books go, there are e-readers and tablets that literature can thrive in, but more cynical readers feel something is lost in this transition. Tablets are not a pure book-reading experience. Can anyone get the same experience reading a book on an iPad where distractions thrive?
Our generation of television watchers and internet surfers may be just as dangerous to printed books as the firefighters who burn books in “Fahrenheit 451” are.
Critics, teachers, readers all like to believe the novel is a warning against the censorship of books but Bradbury spent the last few years of his life trying to convince everyone “Fahrenheit 451” wasn't about censorship. Rather, he was adamant the novel was a cautionary tale against the potential evil of television, or “quicker” ways of getting information. Bradbury worried about a society where people gave up books because they had easier, faster forms of entertainment and knowledge.
An LA Weekly article by Amy E. Boyle Johnston from 2007, the year Bradbury received a Pulitzer award, elaborated on Bradbury's fears and highlighted Bradbury's insistence the book wasn't about censorship.
“Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate,” Johnston says.
Johnston's article notes that Bradbury feared that formats like television took people away from enjoying literature.
“Useless ... they stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full,” Bradbury said of television.
Johnston includes an excerpt from a letter Bradbury sent to another writer, Richard Matheson, in 1951 about how he feared radio would take away from literature.
“Radio has contributed to our growing lack of attention ... This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again.