One of the books which had the greatest effect on me in my teens was Fahrenheit 451 and I still recommend everyone read it (along with Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, 1984 and Animal Farm). In some ways Fahrenheit 451 seems to have the greatest relevance to our time.
The prediction of a world where we are controlled by vacuous media and books are burned to deny people the knowledge required to question authority seems to parallel our click bait and reality TV dominated world.
However, in the most fundamental way I would argue that Fahrenheit 451 got things wrong.
I have no time in general for conspiracy theories. I place them in a bucket of human behaviour resulting from an evolutionary trait which compels us to find meaning and understanding of our world and when we can’t find immediate answers, we tend to find solutions using whatever we have available, no matter how factually implausible. I do not buy into the idea that our media are controlled so as to control us.
The worrying truth is that in a world of free market consumerism we are given exactly what we want. Our media increasingly satisfy our laziest cravings to attract the biggest revenue. Through mass demand we are are seeding the lowest forms of entertainment and sleepwalking towards a post truth, post intellectual, post moral future.
Events of this year indicate that far from being a benign phenomenon, in democratic societies the effects can be profound.
A free press is essential, but it seems that responsibility for ensuring that the press and media in general act responsibly lies with us as consumers. Irrespective of political leanings we must spend sensibly. We must even click sensibly.
View media critically. Don’t fund substandard reporting by viewing, buying, advertising or clicking.