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A technology-induced dystopia — a techstopia?

After visiting the Boston Public Library, English teacher Garrett Austen posed his students with the following question regarding Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic Farenheit 451:

Is the dystopia that Bradbury warns us of in his novel and is the coda to his novel, whether imposed by force or lack of interest, a real threat in the United States and the First Amendment? Use evidence from Bradbury, the First Amendment and the library to prove your point.

Beneath you can find the insightful response provided by 10th grade student Hannah C, in which she shares her thoughts on censorship, the permeation of technology in everyday life and much more.

The dystopia that Ray Bradbury feared – that truths were being hidden and censored, scratched and scribbled out – is no longer eminent in the way that he feared it to be. At the Boston Public Library, we cross-referenced a list of books previously banned in Boston with the systems in the library to find that only two of several hundred were missing from their shelves. In 2012, according to the librarian we interviewed, 37,000 people opened new library cards and 3.4 million people passed through their doors. It’s unclear, however, whether the books or the movies available for lend are the real attraction…which brings me to my next point.

It is my belief that our world is facing the frightening possibility of Bradbury’s dystopia (except he did not take into account the introduction of technology): future generations of non-readers, accessing simple, quick information and skimming the details. We are censoring the information we receive, by the way we filter results, personalize search engines and choose exactly the key words to type in. We no longer stumble into unknown revelations. With websites like StumbleUpon that give you random web pages, they are still catered to “stumble randomly” within topics and tags of your choice. Who reads full novels anymore? We have Sparknotes. Although no statement is blanket as there are always outliers, it is the tragic truth that technology makes it impossibly easy for people to be lazy, unscholarly and through this, willingly barring themselves from great knowledge.

A phrase in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads “abridging the freedom of speech.” I believe that we are perhaps imposing this abridgement upon ourselves. In the Fahrenheit 451 Coda written by the outraged Ray Bradbury, he writes about his novel that “described how the books were burned…until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.” On the corner of a busy road in Singapore lies a shopping mall centered on one large bookstore that defined my childhood: Borders. As of mid-August 2011, this Borders was replaced with a junk shop filled with dust and plastic Christmas balls. I was disgusted. The public library in my California home smells as if no one’s cleaned its corners in a decade and though I’d always appreciated its silence, its emptiness is saddening. As much as these kinds of incidents can be blamed on e-Books and the Kindle, it is also true that there are fewer readers among us. We have shut our books (and our minds, in a way) and our libraries, replacing them with blinking gadgets with notifications and alerts (with a subsequent skim of three sentences) and shiny glass malls (or straw reindeer, in my case). Many will disagree, saying technology makes everything accessible. To me, however, a library card is, or at least was, more accessible than an iPad.

[Author’s Note: With all of that being said, I am admittedly entirely reliant upon my own technology. But I do love a dusty old read.]

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