I think we can all agree that heavy censorship as in Fahrenheit 451 is bad and not a society we want to live in. We see that when most individuals are limited in this way it brings not just themselves down, but the whole society and culture. This novel makes it fairly obvious what is happening. What is less obvious is that in today’s Google Search dominated world, and a world where everyone is staring at their phone, we are self-imposing another type of censorship. Censorship, whether by a government or self-imposed, is still censorship but by a different name, and lowers a person’s capacity to live fully and therefore lowers a society.
Limitations and book banning is what we usually think of as censorship. Directing thoughts toward other things like constant entertainment is another method which the government uses for thought control and propaganda. Censorship and persuading people’s mind and soul are necessary steps if you want to control a population and in Communist societies, we see it all the time. What better way for an evil empire to dumb down its population than put a constant entertainment tool in every hand. Oh wait, we are doing that to ourselves!
Self-censorship means we are choosing it. We wouldn’t call it such a scary name. Data and information and games is what we call it. It is harder to see that it has been pre-chosen for us. Who decides what games get to market? Who decides what pops up in Google Search? Forming content, algorithms, editing out ‘hate speech’ is already done for us. The article “Is Google Making Us Stupid” calls Mountain View, CA the “high church” and says that it has made “information a kind of commodity…to be mined.” The article even leans toward Google Search future as nearing Artificial Intelligence. A uni-source leads to a uni-vision. From there one can imagine that we are somewhat blindly following the high priest into the cult, never knowing we are even in a cult. We are doing it to ourselves and censorship can mean the limits of the technology or the humans running them, and also the limits we are under when using it.
Necessarily biased information comes from and where mindless preoccupying entertainment occurs. Just like Mildred in Fahrenheit 451, she does not have time or space in her life to think about deeper issues. It makes her and people like her easier to control. Maybe we start out selecting this method of learning, but after a while, it selects us. Through shrinking brain capacity, it is all we have the tolerance for and then later, maybe all we have the capacity for. It is a form of evolution, circular influencing. In his article “Is Google making us Stupid?” Nic Carr, The Atlantic July, 2008) says that our attention span muscles are weakening and we are using just the stuff of thought, but missing the process of thought.” “... the Net seems to be chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation … Once I was a scuba diver … now I … jet ski.”
Mildred, the complicit character in the government’s censorship in Fahrenheit 451, is complicit by a combination of self-imposed censorship and outside-imposed censorship and indoctrination or propaganda. The book shows that she chants the slogans and feels very safe within those rules, yet it also shows that free thought, represented as books, is also possible in characters Montag and Jane. If living today, I imagine she would be all-in in the tech gadgets. Google-glasses and iPad, counting her steps with a pedometer as she plays Candy Crush while power walking. She is a warning tale of shallowness that becomes those that will not go deeper into themselves and their culture. In “You’re Not Happy, You are Distracted” author Amy Chan explains that happiness depends on the next high and is largely dependent on outside things. Good things, even. Family and friends, belonging, busyness. She says that joy is what she had to cultivate when she lost her happy things. She moves from “chasing pleasure... to build(ing) joy.” Joy does not depend on others and has a lasting presence. She asks us if you were to lose it all, your health, wealth, beauty, family, would you still have a baseline of joy inside you?
We know we are missing out. Imagine someone’s head burrowed into their phone. They are at the beach, and behind him a whale breaches the surface, twists, and slams back into the ocean. It is something people wait for years to see. More sadly, it may be something he has waited to see and maybe that is why he is even at the beach. He looks up only when people around him gasp. This one example shows us that there is no substitute for being in the moment, original ‘content’ and shared camaraderie with others on that beach who witnessed a beautiful thing. Montag sees Jane as authentic and wonders what he has been missing and starts to need change.
The book Fahrenheit 451 wants us to ask ourselves whom do we want to be and whom do we want others around us to be? Do we want to live in a culture full of Mildreds and Beattys and that guy at the beach? Democracy depends upon educated, involved, virtuous citizenry. “Free to be Happy” article explains how Thomas Jefferson formed the Declaration of Independence using Greek ideals. Happiness is “not private smiley faces, self-esteem, or even feelings” but rather it is about creating the ultimate good, the public good.
Every time there has been a new invention, people worry it may harm them or society. Either way, we are going to have to deal with pervasive technology now because there is no putting it back. Adaptation is normal and necessary and that is why we are glad our brains are plastic. The change, and now the challenge, is endless breadth but greatly decreased depth. It is each one of ours decision if we are going to look up before or after the whale breaches.