Earlier this year I read Fahrenheit, 451 to my daughters, and in addition to enjoying the story, I was amazed at Ray Bradbury’s prophetic prowess. Interactive games, wall-sized TVs, mobile entertainment devices , sound-bites in the news, the dumbing down of society that began with the elimination of classical education – this guy saw it all fifty years before its time. And he’s still alive, able to comment on today’s technology and how his books are perceived fifty years beyond their time (though some of his works might simply be timeless).
But what really caught my ear while reading the book is the theme of censorship and how it may unexpectedly be a thing of the past (something Ray Bradbury might have been hopeful for, but certainly didn’t predict). In our modern world of eReaders – my family just purchased its first: a Sony PRS-950 – it’s not unreasonable to think that the advent of electronic books has not only revolutionized book-publishing for the better (and might yet reinvigorate the periodical industry), but has also made censorship an impossibility, a thing of the past, a relic of tyrannical regimes and small, isolated pockets of modern-day society.
For those who might not be familiar with the contents of Bradbury’s book, in Fahrenheit, 451 firemen actually start fires, their target being for the most-part books which been outlawed for years. The idea that firemen once put OUT fires is a myth spread by liberal-minded folk who are now in jeopardy of being rounded up and eliminated.
In fact, today physical books ARE being eliminated. Just last July, Amazon announced that eBook sales outnumbered hard-cover book sales for the prior three months. And while some may perceive this as bad news, and while there’s still something to be said for curling up with a good book made out of honest-to-goodness paper, I can’t help but think that the advent of electronic books – in addition to making book publishing a more profitable and equitable industry – has all but eliminated the idea that specific books might be eliminated from the face of the earth. Censorship is, in fact, dead. This wasn’t the case just over a half a century ago, when the attempted elimination of the Jewish people in Europe was accompanied by the attempted elimination of an entire culture. Similarly, languages of native people everywhere were too once considered in jeopardy of being eradicated.
If one can e-mail word for word The Bible or Shakespeare’s Sonnets or Huckleberry Finn in a matter of seconds to anyone in the world, it seems implausible that we’ll ever find ourselves in a position to seriously worry about a manuscript’s disappearance.
Torahs were once in rare supply, but even if every hand-written scroll was confiscated and burned, a million more would survive with the click of a button.
Backward states in the U.S. and backward countries who fear truth and the human condition might try to inhibit the free-flow of ideas and art, but what barrier can they possibly enforce in the modern day? Even if all the servers in the world were to suddenly break down, or if a space bomb were to destroy the tens of thousands of satellites – working and defunct – that now circle the earth, eReaders would come to save the day. Unless you can confiscate the electronic reading devices of every man, woman and child, you have no chance of eliminating a book from circulation. Home printers coupled with eReaders make this idea an impossibility.
The world has shrunk in many ways. People have become dumber in many ways. Divisiveness rules the airways. There’s much to be cynical about. But censorship – the fear of eliminating a culture, a religion or a language – is now a think of the past. It’s no longer a threat.
And this is something to feel good about, a small way in which our society has progressed, a word which can’t often be attributed to modern man.