Critics often accuse Ray Bradbury of being against science fiction. They say he fears and distrusts science (Knight 4). However, both of these accusations are misinterpretations. Bradbury himself said that he doesnt distrust machinery, he distrusts people (Mengeling 85). He is not afraid that machines are going to computerize people out of existence; he is afraid that human beings are going to dehumanize themselves out of existence using machines and technology. This fear can be seen in many of his stories, including Fahrenheit 451, The Flying Machine, and The Murderer.
The novel Fahrenheit 451 is a good example of a story in which Bradbury emphasizes his fear of technology being misused. Disregarding the main theme, which is censorship, and focusing on the details, one can see what he thinks could happen if technology is allowed to get out of control. He writes about automobiles that go so fast that advertisements must stretch for miles in order for them to be seen by the drivers. He talks about machines that can completely flush ones body of blood, replacing it with fresh blood, and these machines can be operated by poorly educated people. He also writes of people whose lives consist solely of interactive television, or parlor family (Fahrenheit 49).
All of these things reflect his fear of being dehumanized out of existence because, in the story, the general public is programmed by technology to act the way they do. The main characters wife, Mildred, is Bradburys example of the product of this advanced technology: she is more like a robot than a person. Her life consists of interacting with characters on the television, whom she calls her family. When she is watching television, it seems as though she feels that the television is more real than her actual life. Bradburys prediction of what television could do to people is relatively correct in the present day. Recently, people have gotten more and more involved in television, especially reality television shows, such as Survivor, that it seems as if it is the only life they have.
The short story The Flying Machine is another good example of a story in which Bradbury expresses his opinion that technology can be dangerous in the wrong hands and that it must be monitored so that it doesnt get into the wrong hands. The story takes place in China in 400 AD. The Emperor of China catches a man flying in a flying machine that he has just invented. The Emperor has the man put to death, and all witnesses silenced, because he is afraid that if someone with an evil heart learned how to build a flying machine, it could be used to drop boulders upon the Great Wall of China, destroying Chinas greatest means of protection.
The idea behind this story can be applied to technology in the present day. Many new inventions that bring convenience to everyday life can be used for evil purposes as well. For example, computers have seemingly infinite uses for nearly everybody in the world. However, they are also used to view pornographic material, hack into government databases, and obtain other peoples credit card numbers. Another example, which happens to fit well with the story, is the invention of the airplane. It was invented as a very quick, convenient way to travel to distant places. However, as demonstrated in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, planes can also be used as a means to take the lives of innocent victims. Both of these examples demonstrate how technology can be very helpful, if used correctly, but can have drastic consequences in the wrong hands.
In the story The Murderer, society is so caught up in technology that brings convenience that there is no way to escape technology. The story is about a man who was never a technology fanatic, unlike most people in his life. Instead, he only tolerated it. After a while, though, all the noises and distractions of technology got to him and he started destroying radios, televisions, telephones, and any other annoying technology he could get his hands on. The story, written in the 1950s, is set in a future almost identical to the world today. Wrist radios (Bradbury, Classic Stories 53) are little machines mentioned in the story that are very similar to todays cell phones. People in the story rely on technology in their daily lives in a way very similar to that of people today. For example, many people carry around cell phones and beepers at all times just like people in the story always have their wrist radios with them. It seems as though Bradbury was emphasizing that the daily conveniences technology brings are more of a nuisance than conveniences themselves. The world he created for this story is one that, unfortunately, human beings seem to be striving to obtain.
In each of these stories, Bradbury is not trying to argue that technological advancement should be stopped; Bradbury is not against all science and technology, as it may seem. Sam Lundwall believes that Bradbury is saying, science is bad; everything new is bad. Only the twenties were good (qtd. In Mengeling 83). This is incorrect; Bradbury does not think this. He is hostile to any machine or form of technology that is used to deny individual freedom or the democratic spirit (Mengeling 86). Bradbury believes that some machines humanize us and some machines dehumanize us (Mengeling 87).
The machines that dehumanize human beings, such as the ones Bradbury rants about in Fahrenheit 451, are the ones that Bradbury is against. These machines are the ones that deprive human beings of personality or spirit, such as televisions, telephones, and automobiles. The television fits under this category because it is so often used as a baby-sitter, a replacement for parents spending time with their children. The telephone may not seem like it deprives one of personality, but Bradbury thinks so. Seemed to me a phone was an impersonal instrument. If it felt like it, it let your personality go through its wires. If it didnt want to, it just drained your personality away until what slipped through at the other end was some cold fish of a voice all steel, copper, plastic, no warmth, no reality (Bradbury, Classic Stories 55). Automobiles are dehumanizing, according to Bradbury, because they can so easily take the life of a human being.
Bradbury does not believe that the machines themselves are destructive. The way human beings use the machines is destructive. Bradbury himself admits that they are all good inventions, if only human beings would not abuse them. Bradburys message is that technology, under the wrong circumstances, is very dangerous to society.
Bradbury, Ray. Classic Stories 1. New York: Bantam, 1990.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine, 1953.
Knight, Damon. When I Was in Kneepants: Ray Bradbury. Modern Critical Views: Ray Bradbury. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. 3-8.
Mengeling, Marvin E. The Machineries of Joy and Despair: Bradburys Attitudes toward Science and Technology. Writers of the 21st Century: Ray Bradbury. Eds. Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Oleander. New York: Taplinger, 1980. 83-109.