dystopic paranoia

dystopic paranoia: 1. (n.) a state induced by repeated exposure to, reading of, or teaching of classic dystopic novels like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World.

Case in point: What does Fahrenheit 451 have to say to The Nook?

The ancient trembling voice of Faber says, “It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books.The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for, take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

But when I think about Fahrenheit 451 and its relationship to 1984, I start to feel panicky. Because while it’s true that the medium isn’t the message, it is also true that it is much more difficult to get rid of a million paper copies of a book scattered all over the world than it is to alter or change the one electronic copy on which everyone relies. If a keystroke can delete the tricky verse from the passage or change a word for a less offensive one or even delete the troubling paragraph entirely, then what?

No, Faber. I think the receptacles DO matter. This is why I’m happy to have an electronic copy of Pride & Prejudice on my iPhone, but I’ll never throw away the hardbound edition Tanya gave me nine years ago. It’s why you had poetry to read at all on the park bench that day when you first met Montag. It’s why Mrs. Hudson can say–as she strikes the match that will kill her and destroy her books–that she has lit a candle she trusts “shall never be put out.”

Is it dangerous to buy a Nook? Do I become like Faber? He “saw the way things were going, a long time back” and yet “said nothing,” he became someone “who could have spoken up and out” but “did not speak, and thus became guilty,” a slithering accomplice to the end of reading and thought in society.

Or is it simply wise to learn to use the new receptacle? Reading novels on the Nook saves paper, wear and tear, publishing costs, everything. It’s compatible with, and continues to sustain the library. It travels well and lightly.

Then again, don’t those very advantages make the reading, the book, the article, worth less?


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