In my very humble opinion, I don't think the book has aged well. I believe the internet really upended the central premise.
The book described society devolving into an illiterate, pleasure-seeking dystopia. The main feature of the Fahrenheit 451 world is a centralized monoculture which is established through trashy tv shows, advertising, and comics.
Social media is extremely shallow, sure, but we also have historically unprecedented access to almost unlimited information. We now have media that is so diverse, and of such specificity, that it has essentially eliminated shared culture and narrative.
It seems the path to the 21st century dystopia is having too much radically decentralized information, rather than a lack of it. Now the concern isn't people being deprived of information. To the contrary, the concern now is people consuming the 'wrong' or 'fake' information. We now have intellectuals intentionally depriving the world of revolutionary research because of this.
We have access to nearly unlimited information, but even then, I don't think most internet users are using it to exchange great works of thought or even 'surfing' as the internet was intended to be used. Instead we have these massive FAANG silos that don't offer anything less vapid than the media described in the book. Even some of the more "idea-exchange" styled websites (Reddit, Twitter) are cesspools of low-effort thought, injokes, and memes.
We have too much information, and a worrying amount of it is untrue or misleading. But that's addressed by Faber in the novel as well, about the centrifuge throwing off all unnecessary thought. If there's so much media blasting in from all directions it gets hard to distinguish and the frequency of it all takes away the will to sift through fact from fiction. This is what leads to the 'fake news' aspect you mentioned. This is also addressed in the book. It's been a while since I've read it, but at one point Montag's wife stays glued to her televisor walls with Jesus himself on the screen telling her about how only his true followers buy some companie's product. Now, Montag's wife would surely have known that Jesus would not have been alive during the time of CorpCo's Wonderful Bottled Drink (or whatever it was called), but she doesn't think about it, she's too wrapped up in the overwhelming pressure applied by the media environment and believes it. It's the same when you surround yourself with this manufactured outrage stuff, and start buying into more and more outrageous 'fake news' claims because it justifies your anger, plays into your new opinions. It feels good, a positive feedback loop. It's the same.
The Internet was not intended for surfing at all. It was intended to be a network with enough reliability to withstand nuclear attacks. You’re thinking of stuff on top of it like maybe the World Wide Web (HTML links).
Sure sounds like 2019 to me. In fact, far more 2019 than the era when the book was written.
>Social media is extremely shallow, sure, but we also have historically unprecedented access to almost unlimited information.
And what we've learned is that access to information means nothing without the ability to process it. And that too much information makes things even worse drowning everything in a sea of noise.
>We now have media that is so diverse, and of such specificity, that it has essentially eliminated shared culture and narrative.
On the contrary, I find that we have solidified an once diverse culture to a couple of monocultures.
Case in point the Top 20, which is almost all the same kind of music today.
If you don't like the 'Top 20' then I presume you listen to alternatives. How did you find them? The internet perhaps?
The global monoculture of BS commercial music is a new development in the 21st century.
Peoples and cultures used to have a huge variety of music and styles all over the world, even if "accessibility" to it from the comfort of ones home outside a specific region wasn't cheap/possible.
>If you don't like the 'Top 20' then I presume you listen to alternatives. How did you find them? The internet perhaps?
Doesn't really matter, as culture is not what people consume in private, but what most consume and influences their public discussion. Some obscure artist I only share with 10K or 100K people might as well not exist culturally.
Nope, I am arguing that _culture_ is more homogenous (and whether there's more easy availability of diverse musical works is irrelevant to that).
Music can have (and has) one million sub-genres today, but the mainstream music (the shared stuff that's part of "the conversation" and defines the music part of our culture) is more homogenous than ever.
Top hits are just designed to be as agreeable to society as possible. That’s what makes them more popular than anything else.
It’s like claiming salt is causing a food monoculture because so many people are using it.
A culture is what people (more or less) share. That part is very narrow today, when it wasn't e.g. in the 60s and 70s.
Niche genres people listen in addition to the top hits but don't share don't enter the cultural sphere.
>It’s like claiming salt is causing a food monoculture because so many people are using it.
No, it's like claiming that whereas once people used to see a variety of movie types in the theaters, now every second movie is a superhero one.
That's true for what people see in the main, and it's true as to what the celebrated, talked about, and influential movies are, even it's easier that ever for everyone to also download and watch some niche movie from whatever era (which most don't bother).
Well, we don't see that these days. With music, for example, we see the same mindless hits dominate the top-20. In past decades (from the 50s up to the 90s or 00s) you'd have those things "happening at the edge" become mainstream.
I completely agree and I'm not sure many people would recognize how much this has changed. When "EDM" started infiltrating pop music it was the sound of the fringe creeping into the mainstream but this has since solidified and dominated to the exclusion of pretty much everything for the past decade. In my mind, this is very different from what we used to see from the likes of pop stars like Madonna that would borrow liberally from the "underground" and use it to spice up their own work.
Personally, I think this is a byproduct of our hyper-connected culture. I don't think subcultures can thrive in the internet era because they are exposed, consumed, and co-opted at too fast of a pace for them to grow.
Personally I had a very hard time finding metal bands I liked until I started going to a lot of shows.
Spotify etc obviously try pretty hard, and with diligent effort you can prod it to cough up a metal band you haven't heard before that doesn't suck, but it's much better at playing music you already know about and like than it is at showing you anything new, at least for my subgenres of choice.
And the power law distribution means the long tail doesn't even register. So pockets of people can hear Mongolian Rap-Opera, but the social discussion, between friends, at homes, at cafes, at the media, on blogs, at watercoolers, etc. is still dominated by the heavy front-loaded top.
It seems like the issue here is conceptual? If you care mostly about what the majority does then it's more of a problem than if you don't.
And although it's good to show an interest in what other people like, you can also talk a bit (not to be a bore) about what you like.
It just doesn't seem hard at all to do something the majority isn't interested in. Most people don't care what you do and will show at least polite interest. You can do what you want.
It doesn't seem scary if what scares you is "what choices I have as an individual".
What scares me, on the other hand, is how diverse and open my society in general is, and the shared culture (including pop culture) we all participate in.
>It seems like the issue here is conceptual? If you care mostly about what the majority does then it's more of a problem than if you don't.
There's a saying about politics: "It doesn't matter if you don't care for politics: politics still cares for you". In other words, one might not care "what the majority does", but what the majority does is still gonna shape the society that one is living in, and their interactions with others.
The current tunes are cultural, they're part of how youths communicate and explore the World and their reaction to it. Now, of course mass media tries to own that, and tailor it to their own desire for wealth -- but it still has to work.
Cardi B fills the same spot that Madonna did 30 years ago, or Lulu did 50 (?) years ago; it's not high culture, but it's still an important aspect of life for many youths.
Sure we have Fortnite now for the kids, instead of yoyos or pogs, but it's still culture.
You’re not living in the same world as everyone else then. Look at the two major political parties in the US alone for how we’re no longer agreeing on basic priorities for societal and economic structure.
They have never been more interchangeable.
In Fahrenheit 451, the people decided to censor themselves and took pleasure in it. These days people have access to a ton of information, but choose to self-censor by engaging mostly with like-minded people forming echo chambers instead of debating differing viewpoints openly.
I agree it hasn't aged particularly well, but it still is relevant. However, I think the more likely distopia is that of Brave New World where we optimize ourselves out of our humanity and instead seek pleasure and order over progress and diversity. That being said, it still has a good message, for those who are willing to look at the themes and find how they might apply to us today.
the society in brave new world also has a place for those who simply can't be happy in an idyllic, meaningless world. I'm not entirely sure what the author's intentions were, but I often wonder whether that world is actually dystopian or if it just seems that way to a 21st century westerner.
To be fair, that's how the tech was designed to operate: show you things you like to generate more ad revenue.
I haven’t actually read Fahrenheit 451 but it’s striking to me how much your presentation of the ideas you present as dismissible actually strongly match my view of the world. Keep in mind, I’m someone who stopped using Facebook years ago and went vegan last year because I found the practice of enslaving animals to be cruel (and also demonstrably horrible for the environment). So I’m not one to buy mainstream ideas, but I think that’s my point here.
What exactly do you mean by "decentralized information"? Like too many niches, social fragmentation, etc?
These media organizations provided the news, music, tv shows, etc. The culture of the consuming audience was therefore far more cohesive. Access to the 'long tail' was difficult for anyone but enthusiasts.
I think that environment informed the book. If you look at the centralized structure of information access back then, the society described in the book was very plausible.
Have you looked at the trending videos on YouTube when you visit in incognito?
GP's concern about the internet is a complete lack of shared reality between people.
EDIT: Although, yeah, of course "pleasure seeking & without depth" seems a good description of unhealthy social media, YouTube, etc.
No one wants to put in the work to knit together a shared reality anymore. Why put in the effort when the incentives reward blatant trek and lies as much as it does telling the truth.
At one point in time, we put a much greater emphasis on integrity and telling the truth. In the last century, it seems like that precedent after precedent for not telling the truth, or spinning it into a form where it's just short of a lie. Tobacco, finance, pharma, big chem, big tech, our legal system, and even our government bakes in lying by omission into the basic gameplay loop.
Where's the incentive to be an honest person when the only ones who seem to be getting anywhere are the one's who lie the most?
I think the Internet has just made the problem so much more visible due to the ease of spreading information. At the end of the day though, to the gatekeeper of the status of "truth" goes the spoils of the war for the minds of the people.
When was this? The Victorian era, with its literal snake oil, yellow journalism, adulterated food (e.g. chalk in bread), etc? The era when "all men were created equal", despite there being slavery?
When was this era of great integrity?
Is the point we're at peak virtue? Peak integrity? I don't think so.
We're connected better than we've ever been before informationally, yet we find now that somehow, magically, every institution that's been put in place to get us where we are is insufficient.
Schools don't provide children with a quality education (cheaply enough). The police are too prone to abuse (or not effective enpugh). Our legal system is completely stratified in it's capability to process cases (the poor take plea deals when they can't afford to fight, but corporations never seem to be able to be pinned down as having done anything wrong). Government officials can be felons, who can't even vote (Yet it seems like the number of felonies that can be committed increases every year). Our infrastructure falls apart and starts major fires under private management (Yet public management is out of the question because it is unfair competition).
Everything we've got now got us where we are, yet it never seems to be enough to even continue to tread water. Why? W/o what have we lost? What are we not doing? The world has changed. Understood. Yet we're clearly in a state where there is no unified sense of direction. Talking with people, if you can manage to get past small talk, renders an image of a country that can't trust itself.
I can't accept that our present day is functional. Even if the integrity I imagine of the past wasn't there, that lack of integrity was appropriate for the time and managed to stay low key enough to maintain some semblance of equilibrium with the environment. Now, the differences in the observable outcomes of events in the world seem to be becoming more and more polarized. The low hanging fruit has been picked, and all that's left is issues that seemingly can only be resolved by the application of overwhelming, global scoped decree.
We're backed into a starting point from which change must happen that has been 200 years in the making, that has apparently blossomed into a historo-legal structure that takes longer than a human lifespan to parse.
So we're stuck at an impasse. Either every decision up to now was right, and every axiom (be it statute, or legal precedent) built into our government is right, in which case every move we want to make from here is moot. We're already perfect. Or... Bad decisions were made, history stands as an example of what not to repeat, and we should be free to remold things such that an effective governance is reachieved and a more stable foundation from which we all can build our lives, and collective society into something as great to us as where we are now is to our forebearers.
So what is it? Are we peak human, or just a bunch of people trying to make a world worth living in? I honestly can't tell anymore, but I can't accept we've hit the zenith. A local one maybe, but not an absolute by far.
It used to be that the news media was required to be honest, equitable, and balanced.
This doctrine has been repealed.
There are more than two sides to every worthwhile argument, and it's not the government's place to decide which voices require equal time to rebut. Furthermore, "Congress shall make no law" means just that, until it's repealed or further amended.
Any examples? I'm not sure what you're referring to here.
According to him, it's just that books are good and television(and radio) is bad.
This probably happens in all art. Which is the correct meaning, really?
I find more and more difficult to retrieve old or original sources of information.
Turn off your phone for a day without telling anyone and see how people react.
From my personal experience, they react just fine. Probably wouldn't even notice. Why, how would the people who call you react?
I have friends and family who call me much more regularly, but react just fine if I get back to them one or more days later.
I'm guessing a spouse would be annoyed if you just disappeared without notice for a day, but then again I doubt this wouldn't be true even before phones.
Well, if you have a boss and (a) work in the field (as lots of people do, from sales reps and messengers to technicians) or (b) are an exec that travels to meetings, customers, etc, or (c) are responsible for a system that might fail (e.g. a sysadmin, a dev whose work is deployed, etc), you'd be expected to have the phone open all the time. And even if they call "a few times a year", they'd expect to reach someone then.
>I'm guessing a spouse would be annoyed if you just disappeared without notice for a day, but then again I doubt this wouldn't be true even before phones.
If there's any kind of emergency or semi-emergency (from the babysitter called in sick to the car broke down) the spouse will usually be more than annoyed if they can't find you during the day.
While the rest of society heads off the cliff ? ( see : internet challenges )
If anything, we're seeing that realised. The diversity you speak of seems shallow. Local culture, local industries are all being displaced with homogenous values that are Western, primarily American. The same is happening in
the social media space.
For a lot of people that would be hard to do, though.
Sure, in this case it remains potentially retrievable, but not in any way that really matters for society at large, ie. not practically so.
No, we don't. We have unlimited access to text. The internet is the library of babel. You can find a community to support your view of the world, no matter how absurd or hateful that view might be.
The pattern of going from point A to B and being told to do that by someone or something as quickly as possible is the norm. If you have a demanding job and a family at the end of most days it’s easy to tune out and only have the desire to feel comfortable. You’ve been exhausting yourself to be ‘accepted’ by society.
Thinking for yourself and finding moments to do whatever you wanted whenever you wanted was dangerous in Fahrenheit 451. I think that is becoming very real nowadays. If you told someone you went for a walk aimlessly in a park and stared at flowers for 20 minutes with your phone turned off you could be viewed as a social deviant to some degree. Your wife or girlfriend might be upset because they couldn’t get ahold of you. A friend or coworker might be frustrated because they needed to tell you something that “couldn’t wait”.
That’s where the danger lies. Society dictating how you think and how you should feel all the time. Technology is only a tool that makes it more efficient.
During the Summer of Love thousands of people just up and left their lives to spend a summer doing whatever they wanted. The only way they could be reached was by telephone or letter and that was if they wanted to be contacted. I honesty don’t think a movement like that or an era like the 60s is possible anymore. People are too attached to their phones and what society expects out of them.
Society needs dopamine detox days as much as we need holidays.
Micro-radicalisation. Not quite the same as flat earth or anti-vax, but still junk.
The Internet is a shadow of its former self. As a teenager I’d avidly read tech sites. This sort of in-depth article was common: https://www.realworldtech.com/jaguar. Gamers overran most of then. Today, you go to something like Toms Hardware and it’s advertising encrusted trash. RWT has been reduced to posting a couple of articles a year. Ars no longer has anyone who knows how a computer or operating system works, though at least its ads aren’t the worst.
As you said, it's just so light on content and heavy on ads in places.
I’ve fallen into the pattern mentioned in the article and book: too distracted to sit down and have a long, quiet read. Part of this is due to having young kids and little high-quality spare time. But part, too, is due to addiction to distraction (such as Hacker News)!
I'm saying this not because I lack the attention span to read for three hours, because I still can... the problem is assembling those three hours when you've got a job and young kids.
I've also been learning a foreign language for about an hour a day over the past year and a half, and believe me, very few of those hours have been contiguous. But I can recover five minutes here and five minutes there, and finish up in the evening, and I'm making real progress. (Unlike reading, where the attention being cut up will diminish the impact, once you're memorizing vocab and such, it's actually possible that breaking it up throughout the day is a benefit rather than the same amount of time in one block. It may help convince your brain that what you're doing is important and shouldn't be discarded, because it keeps coming up, rather than being something it can compartmentalize easily.)
With a bit of creativity you can turn this to your benefit, or at the very least, somewhat to your benefit rather than merely to your continued disadvantage.
To counter this, I decided to wake up earlier and take my time first. I get up at 5 and then exercise, read, etc, so by the time the kids are in bed, I'm pretty much ready for sleep, and sometimes I read fiction for that last 10-30 minutes until I can't focus enough to read another page. This has made it easier for me to fall asleep and ensures I have time when I'm alert for everything I want to get done. The main downside is that my wife likes to stay up late, so I'm tired for our time together, but I find I can usually go to bed a few hours late once or twice a week and be fine, so it works out.
As for things like Hacker News, I try to schedule 5 minute break throughout the day to catch up on that type of stuff. I use the pomodoro technique and catch up on stuff in the 5 and 15 minute breaks while getting a little exercise.
I'm still trying to figure out the right balance for socializing though, since I'm usually braindead by 9PM.
We don't always need to interpret literature in accordance with the author's original intentions, but it helps to acknowledge and remember them.
Having said that, though, I'd like to ask why Bradbury bothered to include a powerful image of censorship (burning of books) in the story if that was't what he intended to focus on. It would seem that a population addicted to shallow entertainment won't even need firemen to burn their books; they'll just let the dead trees rot in a basement somewhere.
Perhaps censorship was needed because there's always a small number of people who find books interesting. Who are attracted to deep thinking. Who will develop and harbor subversive ideologies as a result, and who can incite a revolution when the conditions are ripe. As long as these people exist, the powers that be have a reason to fear. As long as some of us are reading books, there's hope. Or at least that's what I think Bradbury was trying to say, especially at the end.
People are doing their entire routine at the office with Airpods: going to the coffee maker, to the cafeteria, to the bathroom, going to meetings (then taking them out there, I hope!).
I'm not sure the people who do it want to portray the image of "don't you dare talk to me", but that's how I interpret it. If no one can talk to anyone without deliberate interruption, it seems like we'd lose workplace camaraderie.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that social media is just another cultural deviation. As a society, we haven't said yet that it's rude to talk loudly into your cell phone in public, or stare into it when you're surrounded by people also staring into it, or wear headphones everywhere like the gym where you might learn something if you ever talked to anyone.
It's an eerie feeling to see the world a step or two back, to take in the big picture when everyone else is jacked in. I can't really blame people for putting on blinders, as bleak as these times are. Sure, we have unlimited access to news and information. But news is mostly bad, because that's where the money is. Even the best news like NPR leads to depression, especially when you realize that the main news networks broadcast spin now instead of investigative journalism, and they're all anyone watches.
I have no deep epiphany here. But I just want everyone to know that this profound cultural cynicism we're experiencing right now is quite familiar to me, because it's what I grew up with in the 80s and 90s while most of the world was distracted with Monday Night Football. The world's been burning that entire time, most people actively tune it out, and the people like us who see through the veil see more than ever.
Weird when the most woke person on a crowded bus is a homeless guy trying to exit "GTF out of my way, you phone zombies!"
The fact is, what you experienced growing up was an exponential technology curve compared to the generation that came before you. As time goes on, this will be more evident.
I'm puzzled what in that is at all heart-warming? Or hope-giving?
edit: They're genuinely curious, non-rhetorical questions!
I miss many aspects of the 90s and what they stood for. But I'm inspired by today's youth and how they will pierce the veil in their own way.
I do think the Airpods are pretty revolutionary. For starters - Apple built a custom chip for them. There are very few companies that have the resources to do such a thing. As a result, even though they are imperfect, they are still far and away a pretty revolutionary technology.
It is interesting to look at the social consequences of the Airpods. For starters, they are expensive, so in some sense they are a status symbol, especially for the younger generation.
The Atlantic Article the author mentions is interesting though - the thought that a technology melds so well into our daily lives and workflow that it creates a further social rift is scary.
But Bradbury was definitely on to something deeper.
I'd forgotten all about the Seashells and 4 walled televisor in this classic novel. Definitely a great metaphor for today's social media.
"...wrong can also be an adverb. There’s nothing in the least new about this — the Oxford English Dictionary has examples from the thirteenth century onwards.
Robert Burchfield noted in his 1996 revision of Fowler’s Modern English Usage that “The subtleties attending the various uses are considerable”, pointing out that the OED devotes five times as much space to adverbial wrong as it does to the notionally correct wrongly.
The quick and easy rule is that wrongly appears before the verb being modified (“the earlier case was wrongly decided”) and wrong after the verb (“he answered the question wrong”). Like most such rules, it’s not even half the story. Style guides and grammars for learners try to give more complete guidance, variously stating that, if the situation is formal, wrongly may be the better choice in either position; if the adverb comes before the verb, wrongly is the only possible form; if the verb is a common short one, such as do, get, have or go, it often forms a set phrase in which wrong is the idiomatic choice (“don’t get me wrong”, “she did him wrong”, “how did he go wrong?”); wrong is preferred after the verb when the intended meaning is “in an unsuitable or undesirable manner or direction” or “incorrect” (as in spelling something incorrectly); if it means “falsely”, then wrongly is the correct form (“rightly or wrongly”, “the award was denied him wrongly”, “he was incapable of acting wrongly”..."
So..maybe your objection stems from the over-informal feel of adverb "wrong" in a headline.