In an interview with The New York Times last week, the great and aging science-fiction author Ray Bradbury criticized the Internet in the clearest terms possible. âÄúâÄòTo hell with the Internet! I hate all that crap,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs distracting, itâÄôs meaningless; itâÄôs not real. ItâÄôs in the air somewhere.âÄù What would make a man, who spent his life creating imaginary worlds and situations, oppose the Internet so strongly? Though Bradbury does have a reputation for being a mild technophobe âÄî an uncommon phenomenon among science-fiction writers âÄî his dislike of the Internet appears to run deeper than his critiques of the impersonality of an ATM or his advocacy of the typewriter and pen as the best writing tools. You could write him off as a ranting 88-year-old who just doesnâÄôt get what the Internet is about, but you shouldnâÄôt. Since the earliest inception of the Internet, Bradbury has warned of its dangers as a time-wasting and even dehumanizing device. To Bradbury, the Internet is a toy created by man and, as he has said before, his fear is that people are going to play their lives away with the increasingly shiny and better toys that humankind is creating. Bradbury has a role as one of the greatest living science-fiction authors to look into our future and offer guidance so that we donâÄôt end up moving our society in a direction we donâÄôt want it to go. The theme of the all-consuming power of technology comes up regularly in BradburyâÄôs works. In âÄúFahrenheit 451 âÄú, televisions that take up the entire wall mesmerize the population, turning them all into zombies. Shows address the viewer by his or her first name, giving the illusion of interaction. When the protagonist, Guy Montag , a man who has spent his life burning books for the state, starts to become aware of the effects of the screen, he rushes in on his wife and a group of her friends sitting around the screen shouting, âÄúYouâÄôre not living! YouâÄôre just killing time!âÄù Our âÄútoysâÄù are useful in inspiring us to think in different ways and opening our worlds to new ways of being, but there is an important distinction between a toy and true life. The problem is that the Internet too often becomes both the toy and the true life, which is what makes it a danger to the future. Bradbury writes books that help the reader imagine fantastic and mysterious possibilities, but he does not claim that they are the end-all and be-all; rather it is up to the reader to take inspiration from his books and use it to do productive things. The argument, to me, comes down to the growing influence of media and what it will mean for our society. Media is defined not just as the TV, books and magazines, but also as Twitter, Facebook, texting and YouTube âÄî the new media created by the masses. These forms of media in BradburyâÄôs opinion are still as much toys as toys ever were, but they are becoming less and less recognizable as toys. The danger is in confusing Facebooking as a real form of social interaction or YouTubeing as a real way to see the world. Just as sitting at home and reading books all day without any real experiences or outside interactions is as much a waste of the human spirit, the uses of this new media are the same. I doubt that Bradbury would like to become the book burners of whom he warned, seeking to get rid of the Internet completely, because so extreme an action is also just as wrong. Instead, I think that what he is doing is reminding us that the important things in life are always things that you do, and that in our growing technological society it is easy to become distracted from that. The lesson is that you shouldnâÄôt live through the Internet. Keep in the back of your mind that it isnâÄôt real. Have fun with your toys but remember that in the end all you are doing is playing with toys. Thomas Q. Johnson welcomes comments at email@example.com
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