This is actually a common trick that dystopian SF authors will use: they will create a world with two prominent features (e.g. GMO and caste society in "A Brave New World") and suggest that they are causally linked.
Bradbury failed at that. In his world, books are burnt. He assumed readers would see that as a consequence of TV that made people incurious, instead most readers recognized (correctly IMO) that book burning and censorship was instead the most likely cause of the situation.
And actually, as history unfolded (this book dates from 1953), we saw that TV did not replace books and did not actually displace them at all. Internet did, to some extent, but ebooks are pretty popular (and people still read them, despite all the SF predictions about audiobooks becoming the only available medium)
Also, in 1949, a famous book, 1984, presented a word full of incurious and frankly intellectually limited people that was caused by propaganda and censorship. It was closer to what was observed in real authoritarian systems and presented much more convincing causal links.
To people who had read 1984, the world presented in Fahrenheit 451 is a magnification of a post-propaganda society, not a result of TV taking over the world.
This is an interesting case of a book staying relevant despite the original idea of its author being invalidated.
If you look closely you can see huge swaths of that today. How many people actually formulate their own political and social opinions without seeds or entire forests planted by television news? They literally tell you what your opinion should be in many cases.
A common cited example is the Nixon/Kennedy debate. People who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon won, while people who watched it on television thought Kennedy won, and that was when TV was in it's infancy. The relevance of that is people started voting based on visual appearance rather than competence of the issues. Unfortunately Nixon didn't do very well once he actually was elected, but that is besides the point. Imagine people like most of us who grew up with it.
As you mentioned, people now don't know any other way, because we grew up with it. That's the long term problem. Perhaps without TV, people would make much better decisions at the polling stations.
It's a constant, one-way deluge that people get exposed to. I think the internet, with all it's faults, helps to alleviate that, because at least with the internet, an individual can discuss alternating opinions.
People have always interpreted things the way they want to, whether it's radio or TV.
Oh yes, most dystopian fiction still uses it.
And this is also an old rhetorical trick. In political speech it takes the form of putting two words as close as possible together to make people unconsciously do a link between them. "I will strengthen our borders to prevent immigration. Crime is the main focus of our policies." <- No links were formally made in that sentence between crime and immigration, but the words seem linked.
If you make a whole speech about Obama that also talks about the problems of lobbying and corruption of the elite, people will associate Obama with these concepts.
It is very easy and very effective.
I'm curious why we can exclude people previously voting based on "auditory appearance".
On top of that cultural pressure goes down and people do things - being "morons" - today they we're afraid to do 50 years ago.
None of that is inherently bad as I already said. In my opinion it's actually pretty good. But I do think that it's also why things seem less prestine than a lot of the 'old masterpieces'. It's true that some masterpieces are admired because of the effect they had on their field within their time periods. But I'd argue some of that glamor is also because that content was created for 'people who are better than regular people' within that same time period. And so now we're left with material that nuanced in it's own right, but devoid of that suspension of disbelief that we're witnessing something larger than ourselves.
I think a lot of people watch that kind of "reality" TV just to make themselves feel better about how screwed up their own lives are.
Example: Years ago, when Obama was bailing out the banks, GOP talking heads skewered him. They wanted the banks to fail and rebuild. A few years later, when Occupy Wall Street formed, who were also against the bank bailouts, the GOP talking heads skewered them, even though they had similar political positions about the banks that the same talking heads where talking about just a few years earlier. How many people caught on to that? Lack of critical thinking.
Furthermore, care more about stuff that directly affects you and your family. Jobs is certainly a big one. I care that companies are constantly pushing down wages more than I care about other things, because it directly affects me. Just an example. I care that companies are polluting the river my family visits. I care that the educational system in our state is horrible, I care that health care is fucking expensive.
Also, never read opinion columns, the same is true for TV. The old 6'oclock news is decent because they only have 30 minutes, but all the auxiliary shows and the 24 hour news are nothing but opinion. Unfortunately decent sources like the NYT is half opinion, but at least they label it as such.
But in the past, they thought reading would ruin a generation and ruin their memories (it did kill a tradition, but we really just remember different things). Chess was certainly going to dumb down a generation, and folks were seriously suspicious of the automated elevator.
And we have some records of times before television. In fact, there are still folks alive who remember such things. Heck, I remember times before the internet. My parents didn't have cable at one point. My grandmother remembers not having television in her house as they couldn't afford it. Their parents lived without radio. Their parents wrote down their experiences.
It isn't true that we don't have such a world, it just happened before now. Maybe we won't know who is right, but no one is actually willing to give up what they have and it is rather likely that it will fall into the same doomsday predictions about the new-fangled thing as all the previous one.
Now, ironically, everything is ruining Rock and Roll.
And in 1979: "Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some seventy-five separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel, which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony."
Really not sure what to make of that.
If the book is based on a grotesque exaggeration of trends he was seeing in post-war America, then it could well be about censorship, TV, pills, paving over natural beauty, alienation from society, etc. Perhaps Bradbury has just emphasized different aspects at different times.
Nothing you point out changes this. It’s still perfectly valid to say that while TV in the book is their comfort space the situation is primarily driven by generalized censorship of uncomfortable views.
In fact, if anything, your point about the conversation helps support this point.
I imagine him declaring them utterly corrosive to knowledge and true learning.
Getting back to Bradbury's points about TV/radio, he talked about how TV/radio addiction makes it harder to read a book.
So what? You've replaced one addiction with another. Books aren't inherently better than other media (except perhaps some ancillary stuff about your brain generating imagery or eyesight). I'm saying this as a person with this lament (more because some stuff is only available in book form).
I wonder what he would have thought about audiobooks.
Ever since the greeks began taking up writing and reading, and Socrates bemoaning the loss of the ability to memorize entire epics, there has been an attack on "vain" knowledge.
I'd guess in his mind the epitome of a learned person was the aristocratic scientist who read first sources in the native language: Sanskrit, Greek, Latin among others. First sources, always in the original, not interpreted.
I don't doubt that results in improved critical thinking. But whether it's a good investment when you have limited time, I don't know.
It seems to me the printing press actually improved things, but in more recent time the educating power and self improvement potential of books got significantly diluted by drowning books into huge numbers of published entertainment pieces. Entertainment took over knowledge.
I'd say the opposite: today people are reading less book than 20 years ago, writing on paper less and language is on a trend ot become impoverished.
They thought similar things about chess - that it would make a generation of morons.
"The Simpsons" were controversial in the 80's, since they just knew kids would try to emulate Bart, just for a more recent example. My mother wouldn't let me watch it for some years on the single family television.
And lastly: I don't know if folks are reading fewer books or not if you count digital books. That said, I think folks read a lot more than they used to, since a lot of communication is text-based.
What's entertainment and what's knowledge? Where do you fit Fahrenheit 451?
I think he missed a critical point of it though: he sees books as ways to save and exchange ideas of interests coming from various authors while TV is mostly a control tool because it has to go through one choke point that can be controlled by a big, potential nefarious, entity.
He sees internet as an extension of TV but its flow of information is inherently different.
This is why many top news sites now have disabled comments (to "prevent trolling and hate speech" obviously) and why there is so much pressure on social media sites to ban users who are saying something different.
And seeing how oeople block each other on Twitter and retreating into echo chambers all the time, people on HN and elsewhere react like babies to anything that is "too personal", he's perfectly right. It's not about knowledge, it's about being and remaining cut off from yourself and genuine emotions. Having a lot of knowledge about the world is a great way to go about that, while deluding oneself about it. Others are having power or respect. And it's not a long or complicated book, you know, so even just this discussion kinda proves it right.
Oh, and video games, where basically 95% of the "lore" just seems to be code for having issues? Don't get me started on that Deathlord McVoidtouch and all that inane BS. I've been playing games since 1990, and 99.9% of it has always been trash, while today hardly anyone is even trying. And people lap it up, the dumber it is, the more filled with marketing speak and alienated magical thinking, the better. "It's just a game, it's just a movie, don't be a party pooper". It's Fahrenheit 451 to a T.
I would say some songwriters would be more inclined towards that way of songwriting and others would definitely consider themselves storytellers and have a definite meaning for all their lyrics. Telling the difference is not always easy.
The author can always say what he/she intended the story to mean, but that really has no bearing on what any individual reader takes from the story.
I do think there's an interesting discussion to be had about it.
Some people fall in love with things and make their whole life perspective about things like this. I'm sure one could study a rock and learn how to be a great person if they have the mind to do it. On the other hand, people tend to think The Terminator is some kind of prophetic documentary ALA "fiction has some basis in truth" (as though the reality didn't have a better claim to that description.) So I'm wary of anybody who takes a work of fiction too seriously, except in the academic sense of being a good communicator.
Facebook and twitter share the characteristic of getting the worse out of people and capitalizing on it, so this would introduce a bias by giving a megaphone to idiots and people acting like idiots.
To answer your question, no one better that Ray Bradbury can tell what Farenheit 451 is about (and he's been vocal about how people misinterpret it). He knows what he wanted to put in his books. But that does not imply that readers will get it or that in a different context the main interpretation can be different.
His point is valid though, TV turns people watching it into morons, at least the worldwide scientific consensus says so and said so for decades.
I wonder if books bypass this by giving so much information that you need to summarize it to follow along. And the compressed representation is closer to knowledge.
"I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time. And of course, things have changed a lot in four years. Things are going back in a very healthy direction. But at the time I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action."
'The Pedestrian' – http://www.riversidelocalschools.com/Downloads/pedestrian%20...
'The Veldt' – http://www.veddma.com/veddma/Veldt.htm
Now, we as a society are becoming illiterate, incapable of basic reading comprehension. We are voluntarily enslaving ourselves.
That's an extraordinary claim. Do you have evidence to back it up? Because from a cursory glance, studies seem to show the opposite: https://ourworldindata.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/ourwor...
When asked to read, they would complain that they couldn't, because it was "boring". They had been so consumed by spectacle that the ordinary act of reading words off a page had drifted beyond their reach.
... from my fortune database @ http://github.com/globalcitizen/taoup
The problem is whether those readers and reading things that challenge their world view rather than just affirm everything they already think.
This was already happening in 1548 as pointed out in the discourse on voluntary servitude.
Same could also be said for radio/books/internet/vidya/etc...
It's not so much the medium as the marketplace, which optimizes for revenue. This is not to say that nourishing things don't squeak through--just that nourishment is not the objective.
Which I thought he did pretty unambiguously in his book!
Submitted title was 'It's Not About Censorship, but People “Being Turned into Morons by TV”', which was a reasonable effort but doesn't say what "it" is.