I’ve been looking forward to this story since I started this project — Bradbury mentioned it in his introduction. If I remember correctly, he seemed to think it was a good piece of work. And when a writer praises his own work, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be good, because writers tend to be highly critical of their work.
So. The story. It’s another of Bradbury’s stories set in the future, which I’ve noticed all have a common theme of everything being automated. It seems he was certain that everything in the future would be done for us by machines.
And when I think about it, I realize that we really aren’t that far away from this, and it’s kind of scary. Because, as you may notice, he has another common theme, that of the machines taking control. It’s a theme that has occurred time an time again in various forms of media. Just think of the Terminator films, The Matrix, and I, Robot, for just a few examples. Bradbury seems to have had a keen eye for predicting future trends, which is kind of scary. If they start burning books while I’m alive, be warned: I will probably be one of those nutjobs who gets burned along with his books.
Also present in this story is a pneumatic lift which seems to operate like the pneumatic tubes at bank drive-thrus — except instead of canisters of money, the cargo is people. I don’t think I’d like travelling that way.
The big technological wonder, though, is the nursery. It’s basically a room made of three-dimensional screens, with sound and scent, and at least some sensation, for fully immersive imaginary journeys anywhere. Also it’s slightly psychic (kudos if you get the reference). It operates based on thought, so if you think of, say, Africa (hint, hint, that’s what goes on in the story), then you’ll find yourself in the middle of a veldt under a hot sun with some incredibly lifelike lions. Pretty sweet.
Also it was developed as a way for psychologists to examine the thought patterns of children and learn things like if they’re feeling resentment or whatever, which you might guess is an idea that appeals to me.
Since the story follows the parents of the children who use this nursery, there is, as one might expect, some meditation on parenting. It implies more than it says, and basically the take-home lesson is that you shouldn’t spoil your children too much or else they won’t respect you and will just expect to get everything their way, and SPOILER ALERT will feed you to lions if they don’t get what they want END SPOILERS.
The most terrifying thing about this story though is not the thought of the machines replacing all of our everyday activities, or the thought of the machines taking over, but is summed up in this quote: “I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?”
This is it, people. This is where we’re heading. Already we live in an age where people need to be constantly plugged in and entertained digitally. And yes, I realize the irony of the fact that I’m saying this in a blog post on the Internet.
Look, I didn’t have a blog until I was a senior in high school and we started up this little beauty here. I didn’t have a Facebook account until the summer before I started college. Of course, from there it wasn’t a big leap to Tumblr, Twitter, and all sorts of other online ventures. I’m just as plugged in as the rest of you. But I had experience with life before the Internet, and because I stayed out of the social media game for so long, that experience lasted longer for me than for most. My generation is the last to know what life was like before the ‘net, and we’re a dying breed. This is where we’re heading. We’re heading into an age of constant stimulation with no time or motivation to think or do anything that isn’t spoon-fed to us from a screen. It’s one of the reasons I started the Bradbury Daily project in the first place.
Long story short, we all need to learn to live unplugged if we want to survive and remain functionally human when the machines take over.