Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451 is coming as an e-book. At last. Bradbury himself, reportedly, has opposed the publication until now.
That might seem ironic. Wasn’t the book about the restriction of information – a riff on the book-burning-as-censorship that was such a feature of twentieth century totalitarianism? ‘Don’t think for yourself, think as we tell you to; get with the programme.’
The internet is the inverse of such a mind-set. The hard part, indeed, is working through the avalanche of information pouring out at us. Irony? Bradbury’s problem with e-books, reportedly, is not the freedom of information. It’s the evanescence – the intangibility of electron flows as opposed to the physicality of a book.
Now, when someone like Bradbury takes a stand on a sociological issue, it’s best to listen. What he means – I think – is that the internet and e-age has brought us content transience. We are not merely deluged all the time with e-information, but we expect new material. Every day.
That’s brought home to me by the responses I get to this blog. One older post draws daily interest, still – my First World War lament. But the rest, less so. I guess newspapers are the same – today’s news is tomorrows fish-and-chip wrapping. But online material lasts longer and can be found in ways other than scrabbling through the recycling pile. And yet it doesn’t seem to draw attention any more than old newspapers do. Why?
So are we entering a world of transient superficiality? I’m not talking about the delivery mechanism – internet or print or e-reader or pad or phone. I’m talking about the expectation, our social attention span. As a writer, that’s important to me. And what of the future? Is this a direction, a blip that will settle down – what? Will we have future and lasting classics like The Lord of the Rings? Or are we entering a world of the superficial?
I have a few thoughts on it – but I’d like to know yours too. Discuss!
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011