The year 2020 is off to a controversial start. News reports of devastating disasters, death, and other disturbing events are arising, including bushfires in Australia, the growing dread of World War III, and the sudden outbreak of the Coronavirus in China. And all within the first month.
Lurking beneath these unfortunate circumstances is anxiety and with it, depression. With the introduction of social media, anxiety has skyrocketed in the next generation: teenagers. Teenagers highly value their outward appearance and what others perceive of them. One wrong comment can send them spiraling into depression. Their habits change abruptly, and it is no surprise that recklessness stems from depression. Depression leaves its victims hopeless and desperately searching for an escape. To some, that escape may be drugs or alcohol. The leading cause of human mortality is car accidents, and most occur because of substance abuse. Reckless actions of a teenager can cost their lives, and this never-ending cycle raises human mortality rates higher each year. Humanity is at a dark time, and it is perplexing to see that New York Times bestselling author, Ray Bradbury, warns us about our future with a similar scenario in his novel Fahrenheit 451.
Published on October 19, 1953, Fahrenheit 451 may have been the book that peaked Ray Bradbury’s writing career, catching the attention of lovers of dystopian literature. Kerosene and smoke dominate the futuristic society in North America; all books are brutally set aflame – an efficient method of eradicating knowledge. Without literature, the citizens resort to technology for entertainment, which ultimately becomes their bane. Some of the inventions humanity has created include wall-length plasma television screens called “parlors,” life-like mechanical hounds armed with deadly anesthetic, and Bluetooth earphone “Seashells.” Through Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury incorporates censorship in a technologically-advanced, fictional world to inform modern readers about the rising levels of depression and the resultant of irresponsibility, which can be attributed to our own electronic devices.
Bradbury shines a spotlight on the overwhelming amount of technology, revealing its true form: emptiness. The famous opening line, “It was a pleasure to burn” is narrated by the protagonist Guy Montag, who is a fireman himself. Montag is married to Mildred, an empty husk of a woman deeply addicted to the dull noise of technology, first introduced “uncovered and cold…in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk… coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind” (16). Tied down by entertainment through technology, Mildred is likened to a corpse with her blank features and “Seashells,” which are Bluetooth earphones connected to endless entertainment. Bradbury’s “seashells” are similar to modern-day “AirPods,” which is quite fascinating, since Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. Modern readers can see that our society is almost identical to the technology in Fahrenheit 451. Mildred is also addicted to her parlor, a wall-to-wall digital installation where she can “roleplay” with characters of a scripted story that she refers to as her “family.” This is linked to how teenagers in the twenty-first century are constantly glued to their electronic devices – whether they are listening to hit songs on Spotify or interacting with role-play apps that offer exclusive customizable features. With technology improving constantly, the internet becomes more advanced after each passing day. A variety of entertainment is available, allowing people to pick and choose based on their tastes. Modern teenagers, with their worries about their outside appearance and their impressions on others, are looped into social media as a method of easing their worries. Ironically, by using the internet, teenagers are sucked into the opposite, causing depression and anxiety.
Some people would expect one to be happy with the entire internet at their fingertips, ready to search up talk shows and podcasts, but it is proven wrong in the fictional community of Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury provides both explicit and subtle references to suicide, as seen with Mildred’s attempted suicide. Mildred is known to take a deadly amount of sleeping tablets, often caused by her forgetfulness. Her face, as described by Bradbury, is “ like a snow-covered island upon which rain might fall, but it felt no rain” (17). Mildred’s pale complexion, along with the empty pill bottle, warns Montag of her deathly state and is brought medical attention. She later has no recollection of the event, denying that she ever took the tablets, and proceeds to talk about her parlor “family.” While she was passed out, two men come to “fix her up,” and one tells Montag, “We get these cases nine or ten a night. Got so many, starting a few years ago” (19). To readers, it is frightening for “these cases” to be a frequent occurrence in this technology-driven society. The fact that an individual would unconsciously forget how many pills they have swallowed to the point where they were in critical condition is rather daunting. Perhaps this technological utopia may not be as perfect as the futuristic government though since the inhabitants are destroying themselves. Every year, the number of deaths caused by drug overdoses in our modern society increases, whether it be on accident or attempted suicide. It is normal for a modern teenager to have at least one friend who has attempted suicide through commercial drugs, presenting a bleak future for the next generation.
Fahrenheit 451 demonstrates the overexposure of technology to teenagers which, without proper adult supervision, renders them irresponsible and reckless, causing high rates of teen mortality. One of the supporting characters in the novel is seventeen-year-old Clarisse McClellan, a strange girl with out-of-the-ordinary habits (walking on the roadside and admiring nature). Students in Fahrenheit 451 are taught with technology. Teachers are not even present, as Clarisse explains that students receive “an hour of TV class… transcription history…they just run the answers at you….and us sitting there for four more hours of film teacher” (33). Technology, starting at a young age, dominates teenagers’ lives, and teachers, who are part of teenage upbringing, are absent and unable to guide their students into proper citizens. With educational documentaries and video tutorials, modern education can be easily accessed through the internet, and the need for teachers is slowly disintegrating. However, without teachers, the values learned through school the presence of a teacher are absent. Adult instructors are at school interacting with children for half a day, which may be more than students’ interactions with their parents. Teachers are critical for the growth and development of a model citizen, and technology is slowly taking over. After school, these teenagers “head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes…or wreck cars,” enjoying the thrill of a near-death experience (33). Unfortunately, most of these “thrill” rides end up killing them, as Clarisse worries over her peers, saying “‘I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other… Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks’” (34). Without proper guidance and the values learned through adult instructors, children are not taught morals and become a danger to themselves. The mortality rate of modern teenagers has skyrocketed as well, thanks to vehicle accidents (mainly caused by substance abuse). Teenagers can obtain a driver’s license at the age of sixteen while they are still immature and inexperienced, which produces recklessness on the road. Cars, our advanced technology, allow teenagers and adults to abuse its function, and become the culprit of many deaths every day.
Fahrenheit 451 provides a significant amount of insight into our fast-paced society. With technology advancing more quickly than ever before, will our interest in reading drop significantly? Of course, there is also the underlying fear of becoming like the mindless people in Fahrenheit 451, where technology becomes the only source of entertainment. Because of the endless hours of entertainment without books, individuals were often depressed and to some, suicidal. Nowadays, teenagers find themselves under the influence of certain substances, due to pressure from peers or admiration from social media stars. Vape pens, made popular by social media, are commonly used amongst teenagers during school, and it is concerning to see that more and more teenagers are dying from overdose each year. Books too are disappearing faster every day and losing their readers’ interests. Even now, libraries are being put out of commission after the introduction of ebooks and audiobooks, which people believe to be more leisurely than carrying a hard copy. If physical copies of books are being disregarded, how long will it be until literature as a whole becomes “obsolete” to us? Books are now chasing after the shadow of technology, trying to win a losing race towards the unknown future. But shadows grow long as time passes. So how long will it be until books are completely disregarded in our minds? Who knows if, in the future, Fahrenheit 451’s fictional society becomes our reality?