Friday, July 18, 2014

"Are you happy?"

"Are you happy?"

In the world of Fahrenheit 451 happiness looks like television walls, seashell ear buds, and dangerously fast cars. It embodies the "pleasure" of burning, the "love" of "the family", and the thrill of danger. Mildred's happiness looks like tiny pills; Beatty's like flames. "Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag," is all the world really wants, achieved by the cleansing flames.

Fahrenheit 451 should, in this 21st century world, deeply disturb anyone who reads it. Bradbury's dystopian novel about the rise of technology, the eradication of books, and the death of knowledge and curiosity is a warning to us, a prophecy, about our own society and its destruction. 

Other dystopian novels--The Giver, or The Hunger Games--work in similar ways. In The Giver, the world is void of color and emotion. Don't feel pain, don't get upset, don't disrupt the status quo. And, definitely don't be an individual (this isn't hard because the construct of society won't let you be unique, everyone is essentially, the same). 

In The Hunger Games the people of the Capital believe they are high society. Pictures of sophistication they wear the latest fashion, have the most money, and eat the most food. They can afford to be lazy and live lives of excess. Really, though, they are mere caricatures of people, and their dyed hair, artificial skin tone, extravagant clothes, and outlandish lifestyle is all mockery. They don't see it because they live it, but the people outside the Capital, especially those in the most impoverished districts, they see it very clearly. 

Three very different novels all held together by one very strong thread--in our future happiness will fail to exist if we let "things"- technology, money, power, etc.- become more important than people. 

This morning, I was talking to Tom about cell phones. We were discussing a dinner we had been to where our dinner guest was on a cell phone for almost the entire meal. Neither of us said anything, unsure if it would be rude. Similarly, my students cannot seem to live without a phone in their hands. Texting, tweeting, snapchatting, technologies that did not exist 5, 10, 20 years ago, have captured the hearts and minds of 16-year-olds everywhere. 

This is my fear-- that happiness is no longer equated with human attachment (to love and to be loved); rather, it is equated the next quick fix. Tired of your cell phone? Get a newer, better, faster one. Tired of your job? Quit! There is always something better out there, right? Tired of your marriage? Get a divorce! Tired of your house? Just sell it and move! Do everything quickly. Do it now. Don't wait. Happiness is just over there, if you squint really hard. Just...see it...over there?

These writers, Bradbury in 1950, Lowry in the early 1990s, and Collins today, all knew, and know, what so many fail to realize: if we stop interacting on a human-to-human level; if we abandon natural human curiosity for the next quick fix; if we live a life denying our emotions (good or bad) that we will surely be the makers of our own destruction. 

And that is terrifying. And it should be terrifying.

It should be so frightening that people should want to do something about it. Reclaim the family, reclaim friendships, reclaim life. And yet, I see students sitting at long cafeteria tables with their friends staring at cell phones. I see fewer and fewer kids playing outside. I hear of more destruction.

Happiness isn't at the end of a cell signal. Look up from your phone. Look at your life. Reclaim it now before its too late.

"...We're going to build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them."

(The quotes are from Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury)

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