8 December 2013

She could set the place on fire

I recently consumed Fahrenheit 451 (on a Kindle, to be post-modern ironic), in this novel from 1950, Bradbury has society hiding behind front doors watching soap operas and game shows on wall-sized television screens, having little interaction with their neighbours. I’d read Dandelion Wine a few weeks before and Ray Bradbury’s nostalgia for his childhood of porch swings and new tennis shoes in the 1920s underpins Fahrenheit 451 just as much as the horror of book burning.

But if his vision has echoes in our 21st Century world, it seemed to me that we’ve already started the process of destroying our culture for future generations.

If you have, festering in the attic, a box of 35mm negatives or an old 8mm movie, even without a lightbox or a projector you will still be able to view the images embedded in the emulsion by holding them up to the window. With a good instruction book, a few tools and some spare parts I could imagine making a rudimentary projector or an enlarger. I developed black and white film at college and I’m sure that I could revive that particular skill. Those forgotten memories could be recovered with a little bit of knowledge and dexterity.

Still in that attic, in a damp mouldy cardboard box, will be some old children’s books and possibly some ancient football programmes. Once brought back down to civilisation, the printed words can be read, or if in a foreign language, translated with the aid of a modern day Rosetta Stone such as a Spanish/English dictionary.

That another box in the corner contains a selection of VHS tapes, permanent records of birthday parties, Christmas days and favourite television programmes from the 1980s. Hold those up to the light and see if that jogs your memory. I wouldn’t know where to begin if I had to build a video player, and imagine having to fabricate a monitor.

I link my Kindle to the laptop, open the folders and copy the electronic books onto the hard disk, from there I then ‘burn’ the files onto a disk. I file the disk on a shelf, confident that I’ve backed up my library and have safeguarded it from disaster. However, try and copy those files to another Kindle. Try and read that disk without a computer or DVD player. Hold that shiny piece of glass and plastic to the light.

We have access to Shakespeare because his plays were backed up onto technology that was future proof.

In a 1,000 years time society will either be more advanced and be able to construct whatever they would need to access our out-dated technology. Or, as is more likely, we’ve bombed ourselves back to the Stone Age, every word archived as 0s and 1s from Homer to Rowling will be lost.


Let’s keep the e-readers, smartphones and computers for convenience but keep a hard copy on our shelves. Just in case.

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