Fahrenheit 21C

Cynthia Wagner's picture

Back from Round House Theater's production of Ray Bradbury's futuristic classic, Fahrenheit 451, with special multimedia effects that really do make that future feel now.

The credit for that stunning stagecraft, as well as the directing (Sharon Ott) and two of the principal actors--David Bonham ("Montag") and Aurora Heimbach ("Clarisse")--goes to the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The story is well known enough: Firemen burn books because books contain ideas, which just confuse and upset people. In a culture that fears dissent, ideas are weapons of mass destruction. (H. G. Wells also foresaw a book- and thought-free future in The Time Machine.)

What makes this production so contemporary is not just the cool multimedia elements, but also its reflection of our relationship to multimedia itself. Look around at how many people are connected to their devices, hooked on media walls that aren't just on the walls anymore--they never leave our hands. And yes, in many ways, this does detract from our ability to focus, reflect, think, and question.

But for me the real foresight of Bradbury comes through in Montag and Clarisse's escape to the woods and in the preservation of books through oral storytelling.

Futurist William Crossman has long been forecasting the rise of voice-based computing and the lessening need for text. See VIVO [Voice In/Voice Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers.

Frankly, as much as I love Moby Dick, I can't imagine memorizing it. Nor do I necessarily buy into the idea of rote memorization as valuable for critical thinking. But Bradbury's point about conveying cultural knowledge through the medium of storytelling is valid, and Crossman's point about advanced societies relying less on text to do the conveying is becoming increasingly validated.

Bradbury's prescription for his hero, escaping to nature and away from the oppressively conforming and soul numbing city, is the same prescription we hear today from Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. Louv writes about his prescription for children hooked on technologies and suffering from nature-deficit order in the next issue of THE FUTURIST.

Cynthia G. Wagner is editor of THE FUTURIST magazine.