02/23/10 — Panel shares thoughts on technology in 'Fahrenheit 451'

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Panel shares thoughts on technology in 'Fahrenheit 451'

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 23, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Using technology or rewriting history to either enslave or control the populace are hallmarks of "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury's dystopic vision of the future.

That observation and how that classic novel fits into the science fiction genre were topics Monday night for a Wayne County Reads panel discussion on "Science Fiction, Science Fact" hosted by Mount Olive College.

Dr. Linda Holland-Toll, associate professor of language and literature at Mount Olive College and author of "As American as Mom, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Constructing Community in Contemporary American Horror Fiction" spoke on how "Fahrenheit 451" fits into the science fiction genre.

Banks A. Peacock, a business and computer technologies instructor at Wayne Community College, discussed the technology aspects of the novel, and Rachel McWilliams, reference and instruction librarian at WCC, examined the book from the perspective of dystopian literature.

Dystopian literature's common themes are a future dictatorial or authoritarian state and an oppressive social system, Ms. McWilliams said. It is, in effect, a society that is the opposite of utopia.

Classic examples of the style of literature are "Brave New World," "1984" and "A Clockwork Orange," she said.

"Fahrenheit 451" was published during the early years of the Joe McCarthy era when the senator was just beginning to go after even potential communists, she said.

"Because I am a librarian, I enjoy books and I am interested in book burnings and banning," she said.

While book burnings and bannings are most often associated with Nazi Germany, the practice continues even today, she said.

Ms. McWilliams said she had read of one case of an Asheville church that burned books including non-King James versions of the Bible.

She said the books in "Fahrenheit 451" were banned not so much by the state as by the people who were uncomfortable with them.

Peacock said when people look at the technology of the book, such as the wall-sized television screens, that they need to remember that it has been more than 60 years since the novel's first publication.

"We may forget how different the world was then and some of the things he predicted that have come pretty close," he said.

Peacock gave an overview of the level of technology at the time the book was published. For example, television was still in its infancy and relied on tubes. As such, a wall-size screen would have required a large tube that would have extended backwards from the screen. He asked audience members to recall the old CRT computer monitor.

Also, in the 1950s, a portable radio, which would have been based on vacuum tubes, would still have been as large as a loaf of bread.

"So the idea of having ear-bud type radios, we think nowadays that is not so weird," he said. "But in his day and time there wasn't anything close that could have developed anything like that."

One thing that was missing from Bradbury's predictions is the computer, he said. Also, he said he found it interesting that Bradbury did not talk much about atomic energy in the novel.

"I think 50 years later we have a book where the idea of censorship, of not reading, of not thinking, of watching TV and not delving into a book because it is hard is still as current as when Bradbury wrote it," Dr. Holland-Toll said.

She said people in book who seek knowledge and information are marginalized, while those who watch TV are happy.

"I found tonight's discussions to be fascinating," said Tara Humphries, public information officer at Wayne Community College. "It truly was a discussion. I loved the audience participation. I loved the viewpoints of the love and hate of technology that we live with.

"And the love of books of paper and books and words and even writing, whether it is writing with a fountain pen as was mentioned tonight or word processing. That is what it is all about. That is what Wayne County Reads is all about. It is about that love of reading and words and perpetuating that."

Up next on March 1, Read Across America Day, is the finale for Wayne County Reads, which will be held at the Arts Council.

"How appropriate is that?" she said. "We are going to have a reception and we will be allowing the student winners of the "What Book Would You Save?" contest to read their essays. We will be presenting them with copies of the book that they wanted to save, which will actually go to the public library so it will be saved.

"The big winner will get a piece of technology that has yet to be decided on."

Wayne County Reads is a one book, one-community project started in 2004. Partners are the Arts Council of Wayne County, Mount Olive College, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Library, Wayne Community College, Wayne County Historical Association, Wayne County Public Library and Wayne County Public Schools.

Funding for 2010 activities has been provided by the Friends of the Wayne County Public Library and the Goldsboro Rotary Club.