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"We're the only country on earth stitched together by words and, most important, their dangerous progeny, ideas. And those ideas have had weight. They have had force, not just for us in our eternal dealings, but for the rest of the world." ~ Ken Burns

Saturday, October 3, 2015


 I just finished rereading Fahrenheit 451 in anticipation of teaching it in my senior English class  this year.
 It's always interesting to read a book from the perspective of a teacher instead of just for fun. I notice things that I never noticed before – like last year, I discovered a whole new interpretation of the musical Into the Woods, which my freshman watched after they finished reading Briar Rose. (That's for different blog post, though).  This time through Fahrenheit 451, I noticed a particular symbol  developed throughout the book that I think will lead to an essay prompt.  (That is also not the point of this post).

I can't remember when I first read 451.  It wasn't a school assignment; I don't know where I got it or why I picked it up, just that I loved it.  I do know I last read it before 2010, because that was when I got my first iPad and, shortly thereafter, my first iPhone.  I was one of those people who resisted getting a smartphone for years.  I had tried an early version in 2006- a Windows-based phone that was absolutely atrocious, and which I traded in for a "dumb" flip-phone as fast as my new-every-two would allow me- and it had soured me on the idea of a single device for phone calls, pictures, internet, music, etc.  I had a camera for pictures, a computer for the internet, and a Zune for music.  Why would I want one "Jack of all trades" device, which I assumed couldn't possibly do any of those things as well as a dedicated device?

These days, I get anxious if I'm separated from my iPhone for more than a few minutes.  I read an article recently about how infants and young children start displaying the same behaviors in response to their parents' tablets and smart phones these days as they do in response to their parents' other children.  In short, they experience sibling rivalry with our electronic devices.  Disturbing, isn't it?

To return to my original topic, this was my first time reading Fahrenheit 451 since the iRevolution, since it's become almost impossible to go anywhere that is actually cut off from the constant barrage of noise, information and of course advertisements.

The novel was written in 1953.  There are many aspects of the future (our modern day) that Ray Bradbury didn't predict accurately, but there are also many scenes that strike me as unsettlingly familiar.  Modern news shows that seem little more than bread-and-circus, where we are barraged with a screen where there's one program going while another is highlighted in picture-in-picture format and headlines scroll across the bottom, interrupted every few minutes for commercials- some of them commercials FOR THE NEWS PROGRAM WE'RE WATCHING- and where lately there seems to be little difference between the Presidential campaign and an episode of a reality television show... Bradbury predicted it.

Bradbury didn't- in this novel- predict smart-phones.  There are wonderful aspects about the modern world that he didn't foresee as well (our efforts toward gender equality seem to have taken him by surprise), but I wonder how his novel would have changed if he had realized that soon we would willingly bring the "parlor walls" and the "family" with us in our pockets? That we would pour so much real money into buying coins, gems, diamonds and other make-believe currency so we could lose hours of our lives in imaginary electronic worlds- or in something even more mindless, like crushing candy? That we could play "words with friends" and never actually meet, see or speak to said friends?

There are remarks online from Bradbury about modern cell phones ("too many") but reading those isn't the same as the conversation I wish I could have with this brilliant writer.

Next on my reading list: H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.  Are you sensing a theme in this year's curriculum?