At long last Fahrenheit 451, one of Ray Bradbury’s master works of futurism, fiction and sci fi are finally available on iPad, Kindle, and other eReaders. This is great for those of us who love Bradbury’s stories and have longed for years for a way to simply and easily have one of his stories or a passage from Fahrenheit 541 at the ready.

This article on Cult Of Mac shows a bit of surprise that Ray Bradbury would be distrusting, and even hostile towards technology on the occasion of this book now becoming available on digital devices. They seem surprised that one of our most beloved futurists would feel this way. But to me it makes perfect sense. Other than the fact that he named his character in F451 after a pencil rather than a typewriter, here’s why Ray Bradbury hates technology based on some of his stories:

The Veldt: The Illustrated Man, 1951

In this story, parents use technology, a room that can take their children anywhere they like (think Holodeck…), to take care of their children for them. Technology replaced parental attention. Without spoiling the story for you, that goes horribly wrong.

In A Season Of Calm Weather: A Medicine for Melancholy, 1959

This is not a sci fi story, but it does show Bradbury’s trust of the human, emotional and ephemeral, at the expense of the mechanical, documentary and permenent. Which rings true when you experience the master art works at the Louvre among a throng of pushy tourists who spend enought time to snap a camera phone pic of the Mona Lisa before pushing their way out.

The main character is a huge fan of the work of Pablo Picasso who takes a trip to the south of france to soak in the atmosphere and works of Picasso.

The main character ends up finding Picasso creating free form frescoes with a stick in the wet sand of the beach as the sun is going down and the tide is coming in. The MC is faced with the choice, run to get his wife and a camera and attempt to preserve these master works, or simply enjoy them for what they are as they transit the short span of their existence.

This is a beautiful story that shows the sublime perfection of a moment, and an experience that is meant simply for you and you alone, that you can’t possibly share with anyone else. Technology has no place in these moments, and in-fact, destroys them.

The Time Machine: Dandelion Wine, 1957

This story shows how Bradbury feels that the synapses are always going to be greater than the circuits. It’s not what you think.

Two boys go to visit an elderly man in their town to hear his old stories. He is a time machine. They shout out a word and the man becomes a story, relating the past through his words and bright eyes as powerfully as being there yourself. Technology can not improve on what it means to remember, and share those memories directly with others.

The Pedestrian: Golden Apples of the Sun, 1951

I think we’ve forgotten in recent years, as many of the things predicted by scienc fiction over the last century have been realized, ipods, tablet computers, submarines, mobile phones, that most of science fiction has not been exhaulting of a utopic future, but a cautionary lesson not to proceed recklessly.

The pedestrian is a story about a man who decides to go for a walk. But in his world of the future, no one walks. Everyone stays inside their climate controlled homes, offices or automobiles comfortable, safe and convenient. It only makes sense.

But humans are goverend by emotion, spontenaity and irrationality, and Bradbury feels that that love/hate relationship with logic is where the spark of genius is in our design. So The Pedestrian decides to go for a walk at night. He is met by a police man who can find no other reason for such an activity besides malovelence, and so arrests him.

The fear is that

Technology robs us of our connection to our core humanity. Or at least it has the potential to. Simple as that. I am very conscious of this. As a person working in marketing and social media, a tech addict and a creative person, I make a conscious effort to subvert my own techno tendencies regularly and simply check out. It’s good for the soul and good for the mind.

That said, I’d buy a kindle just to have all of Bradbury’s work at my finger tips. Not as a way to preserve it from fire, as suggested in the above article. If someone wanted to rid the world of eBooks, in this connected environment, I’m sure a program could be written that could exterminate much of the content in the blink of an eye, without firemen. Not to mention that we know Amazon could easily recind our license to the work should Bradbury ever change his mind.

In the end, I don’t think Bradbury or any other author should get to dictate how the public consumes their content. A lot of Bradbury’s stories are already available online typed out and posted to the web by fans. That’s much more powerful, and hard to subvert than either physical books, or DRM controlled digital files. Even music can be ripped and played on any device we like. Only because books are hard to duplicate at home is this not posible with literature.

And I think if Bradbury were to be completely honest with himself he’d agree. Literatur is too important to dominate that way. If he fears a world where those works are targeted and destroyed at the detriment to society, then the conditions of royalties and publishing deals become meaningless. I’m happy to pay him a royalty for every copy I acquire, he deserves it. I just want to be able to hold it all in my hands at once.


More Info

“Bradbury is far from the last digital holdout. Another K-12 classic, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, is only available in print. None of Thomas Pynchon’s novels are available as e-books, although Pynchon has been characteristically quiet on the subject. Nor are any English translations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and only a few of Marquez’s story collections and none of his classic novels are even available in Spanish. Early editions of James Joyce’s books are in the public domain, but Finnegans Wake, whose rights are tightly controlled by Joyce’s grandson, is not.” Wired Mag

“In the past, the outspoken Mr. Bradbury, now 91, has lambasted the Internet, e-books, “giant screens,” and the “moronic influence” they have on our culture. In 2009, he told The New York Times “the internet is a big distraction.” Yahoo!, he explained, had contacted him about putting one of his books on their site. “You know what I told them?” he told the Times. “’To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It’s distracting. It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.’” The Monitor

“However, to be fair, thanks to the Internet no one will ever be able to burn – or ban – a book ever again.” TechCrunch

Books referenced in this post