By the spring of 1969 I had two more classes to take to fulfill my requirements. I needed to take public speaking and a literature elective. Public speaking was required of all students seeking a career in teaching. I was so fearful of it I put it off till the very end. Turned out I feared for not, I loved it.
The literature class I decided on was Science Fiction Literature. Both classes were summer classes and I quickly learned that Catholic nuns went to school in the summer and they were serious about getting all the As. The other lesson was that literature teachers who are serious fans of Sci-Fi also take summer classes.
First day of the literature class the prof handed out a reading list. I hadn’t read anything on the list and had only heard of a couple of the books. Most of the other students had already read the list and wanted to discuss and debate each book to the nth degree.
Authors on the list included Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Frank Herbert, and others I don’t remember. The ones I enjoyed the most and got the most out of were Orwell, Huxley, Heinlein, and Bradbury. I read most of these authors as mere narratives and enjoyed them. The lit teachers, however, saw symbolism and deep meaning lurking behind every shadow.
As a history teacher it’s been interesting to see if some of the predictions made in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World would come to be. Neither have been proven wrong, it’s just taking longer. Big brother is getting bigger and the sciences, especially genetics, could easily produce that new world.
The book that totally left me in the dust was Frank Herbert’s, Dune. I was the only student who had never even heard of it. The other’s had consumed it several times and wanted to spend days boring the hell out of me.
With a few exceptions I discovered that I wasn’t much a fan of fiction, let along science fiction. I like things that are real or at least plausible. My feet are more planted on earth and not the cosmic dust.
Maybe the best known of Bradbury’s books was, Fahrenheit 451. It is a futuristic world in which government had grabbed the people’s individuality by destroying books. The fire departments job had flipped from putting out fires to starting them. They were the book burners. It was a good read and met my prerequisite for being plausible. I saw a later film version but can’t remember much about it.
Last week I watched the new HBO remake of 451 (the temperature at which paper burns) and while it wasn’t Godfather great it was interesting to see just how much closer we have come to a Bradbury world. The Internet was omnipresent and totally controlled by the leaders. Entire skyscraper exteriors doubled as giant public monitors from which people were told what the leaders wanted them to know and to do. People’s doubts were eased by administering medically altered eye drops. Today’s Amazon Alexa had morphed into the ever-present and ever watchful, big botherish, Yuxie. You could order your lunch by telling Yuxie what you were in the mood for but at the same time the cute little ball was keeping track of your every move, if not your thoughts.
It was frightening to consider all the parallels that exist in today’s world. What has become so common in our world could easily slip us into the world of Ray Bradbury. Just consider how far we ever get from a computing device or a LED screen of some sort. How much of our news and information is filtered? How much is demoted by the phrase, “fake news”? How much is known about each of us because of the “Likes” we click on Facebook or what we buy from Amazon. Look at a new recliner on Amazon and suddenly you’re receiving recliner ads from dozens of companies. Every time we stick a credit card in a gas pump a record is made of our whereabouts. Amazon began as an online, mail-order, book store. I wonder what percentage of their business now comes from books? How much do they earn by selling our information to others? Several billion people have accounts on Facebook and accumulating and selling our information earns Zuckerberg and company billions each year. What is said about the power of our democratic vote following what we now know about the Russian manipulation of the 2016 election?
I don’t know when it will arrive or how brave our new world will be, but I do have a feeling that it’s coming faster than I want. Is today’s American individualistic enough to resist the homologous forces of our rapidly changing world?