Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Screen Time

I'll confess: I like my screens. My laptop, my Kindle, my iPad, my iPhone. Just a day or so ago, using one of my screens, I was able to find--in about five minutes--the name of the ship my mom, age 10, had taken late in 1929 from Southampton to NYC, returning from a year-plus in Scotland, where her father had done his residency for his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh. Google quickly found for me some pictures of that vessel--pictures which I sent to my mom, now 97.

I have myriads of other stories about how screens have aided me in research and writing. Joyce, I think, has even more ...

But ...

She and I were talking yesterday about the ubiquity of screens today--about how addictive they are. And I immediately thought of that old film of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Directed by Fran├žois Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451 premiered here in the USA in November 1966, the month I turned 22. I had graduated from college back in June and in November was in my first year of teaching 7th grade Language Arts and American history (conjoined and called "Core") at the old Aurora Middle School (Aurora, Ohio). (Link to film trailer.)

I don't remember when I first saw the film, but I remember this. It depicted a future not too far removed from our present, a time when books were both banned and burned (book paper supposedly ignites at 451F). And in the film, the wall of the house of our protagonist, Guy Montag, features a huge screen--see image below, fresh from Google. These screens were everywhere in this new world.

We were, of course, supposed to view this as a horror. Nineteen-sixty-six was in a time when many viewed television (pre-cable) as an Evil, as a waster and corrupter of youth, a glowing symbol of the Great Decline of America. (Sound familiar?)

Now ... I have two monitors about that size, one in our family room (where we watch The Daily Show via Hulu, a day after its original broadcast), the other in our bedroom (where we stream Netflix, etc., and where Joyce endures my endless repetitions of The Rockford Files, whose 100+ episodes I've seen, oh, 100+ times).

So ... I do spend some time with screens during the day. I'm on the laptop a lot; I probably spend a half-hour a day on Facebook; I send/receive email (nothing much these days, really); I have two hungry blogs I feed every day (DawnReader and Daily Doggerel). On my Kindle each morning I read the New York Times. I check other news sites, too.

But most of my "free" time I'm reading and writing. I read 100 pp./day for Kirkus Reviews and review a book/week for them. I'm reading my way through Richard Ford right now (nearing the end!), reading the Faulkner novels I've never gotten around to; upstairs, I have a stack of a half-dozen books I read from each night (currently: The Dark Secret by Wilkie Collins (whose complete novels I'm reading), essays by Francis Bacon, Ta-Nehisi Cates' Between the World and Me, Tim Radford's The Book That Changed the World (about Darwin's On the Origin of Species), Charles Johnson's Longmire novel As the Crow Flies, and the latest John Grisham, The Whistler). I read about 10 pp in each every evening ... okay, most evenings.

I read three newspapers a day--the Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon-Journal.

But I've told Joyce countless times that I am so glad I grew up in the pre-screen generation. I don't think I could have resisted the allure of it all. Even now, I force myself (The Dyer Rule) when I'm doing my reading in the coffee shop not to check my iPhone until I've read twenty pages. I'm pretty good about sticking to that. So ... p. 20 (check iPhone), p. 40 (check iPhone), etc.

But it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that pages are losing to screens? And badly so--like, oh, the Hiram High Huskies (my basketball team) vs. the Boston Celtics in 1962. I hardly see anyone reading in coffee shops now--and those who are doing so are usually students--and most of them have a far more latitudinarian Dyer Rule. But ... a few dogged readers remain.

I don't know where all of this is going--but I'm certain we will not be returning to the days when people would line up in hordes at the NYC waterfront when the latest installment of the latest novel by Charles Dickens was arriving.

No, our Screen World will just become even more ... screeny. And those screens will enable us to do even more than we do now--and more quickly, too.


Back in February 1981 I was teaching at Western Reserve Academy--my first stint there. Each marking period the English teachers had to assign an "outside reading' book, and that winter I picked, for my frosh, Fahrenheit 451. The image below shows the copy I used.

In the novel, the wall-sized screens are called "parlor walls" (and they are somewhat interactive); the Montags have three entire walls covered. Guy's wife, Mildred, wants a fourth--though Guy says it's too expensive--$2000. She doesn't care: She wants it--and counters with this: If we had a fourth wall, why it'd be just like this room wasn't ours at all, but all kinds of exotic people's rooms (22).

In the edition I used is a brief Afterword by Bradbury. In it, he talks about how people are always changing his stories (without permission, of course). People who want to make them more PC, people who want to remove things that offend them, etc. And he was fed up.

And he wrote this: The point is obvious.. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches (182).

Indeed, they are. And many of them pause in their burning only to check a text. Or to Like something on Facebook. Some will do so only every twenty minutes or so ...

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