Last month I blogged about reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. So it was rather timely to come across this article about author Ray Bradbury. When the 2007 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded not long ago, Bradbury received a special citation, the only author of science fiction to ever do so. The 86-year-old writer did not attend the award ceremony, claiming doctor's orders, but he later told an L.A. Times reporter that his real reason for not attending was that he would not get to make a speech. What would be the point of going only to shake someone's hand and smile for the camera?
In the same interview, Bradbury also states that Fahrenheit 451 has been largely misinterpreted over the years. According to him, the enemy in the book is not the government, but ourselves, and the real danger is not government censorship but public apathy, which is fed by television watching. In the novel the main character's wife refers to the people in the programs she watches as her "family"; the televisions themselves are called "walls" (she has three of them and is hoping to acquire her fourth). As I read, I pictured a kind of a virtual reality interactive television room with floor-to-ceiling screens to which one could literally escape and enter an alternative existence. Judging by the size and capabilities of some of the televisions I see in homes these days, Bradbury's vision for the future of television may not be far off the mark.
The effects of television watching have been debated by sociologists for years now. There are those who argue, like Bradbury, that it dumbs us down, numbs our brains, and stifles interest in reading. But as the L.A. Times article points out, there are also those who argue that television has in many ways proven to be a societal good--that it has great educational and information value when used properly, and that rather than discouraging reading it has encouraged some people to read who otherwise might not (due to movies and programs based on literature as well as book clubs such as that promoted by Oprah Winfrey).
Personally I think the "heyday" of television may be coming to an end. But it is being replaced by another type of alternative reality in the form of the internet. These days many of us spend time reading online that we might otherwise spend reading a book. As someone whose love for literature led me to major in English, I worry about that. At the same time, though, while I think the internet potentially has some of the same mind-numbing dangers as television, it also seems to me to have a much greater potential for good in encouraging people to write who otherwise might not. (Case in point: me. I have written more in the past month-and-a-half of blogging than I have in years.)
I think I'll take a break from the computer and go read a good book now.