Intellectual Heat: Book Burning Today

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When was the last time you opened a book for pleasure reading; perhaps on a rainy afternoon? When was the last time you flipped through the carefully crafted pages of an academic journal to find information for a research project. The reality is, most of us simply Google what we need. In this high speed, high demand society, technology has replaced the traditional purposes of the physical book, yet books continue to anchor society.

Because the Internet has become our source for information in our accelerated world, we have left books behind. In Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury predicted, “It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.” (58) Bradbury was remarkably prescient as we do more on our computers and spend minimal amounts of time reading actual books. Even the texts once found in libraries have been digitized and can be found online. Granger said, “Nothing’s ever lost.” (Bradbury 151) This reference to the human brain may be better suited to the web. Book burning would not signify a loss of information in today’s world because the information is constantly being backed up.

The idea of burning books is still seen by many people as a sick concept. This was proven in the small town of Troy, Michigan in 2011. When the recession hit, public infrastructure was majorly affected, including the local library, which had, only a few years preceding, been voted one of the most superior of those in its population class. An attempt to raise city taxes by 0.7% in support of the library ultimately failed and a closing date was set. At this point, a small group of people began a campaign. They started groups and put up signs throughout town advertising a book burning party, which would occur a few days after the library closed. The group pushed the limits, going so far as to book a band for the occasion. The response they got from the general public was overwhelming. People were horrified by the idea of such an animosity. A few days before the final vote on the issue, the group revealed that is was perpetrating a reverse psychology hoax, saying, “A vote against the library is like a vote to burn books.” (Jaffe). Ultimately, taxes were slightly raised and the library, preserved. This incident proves that, even today, book burning would have the same controversial effect.

Perhaps in our time of electronic storage, books are slightly anachronistic, but they remain important for very several reasons. One reason is that the language of books is more precise, as well as richer in nuances and connotations. Books encourage complex thought and expression, and they discourage the dumbing down trend that Bradbury foresaw. During the Troy book burning scandal, nobody commented exactly what was wrong with book burning, only that it was “sick” and these people were “imbeciles.” As hard copies of books are barely necessary anymore, the people may have been guarding symbolic treasures such as erudition and art, as well as the freedom of ideas that books represent.

Our obsession with books is rooted in the past. It is incredibly difficult to completely remove information from existence, and even governments, who have censored Internet access, have experienced massive failures. Therefore, people don’t need physical books, but still see them as imperative to society. Today, they continue to represent culture and a glorious, intellectual past.

Isobel Dobbin-Sears

 

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 1950. Print.

Gooding, Gabe. “WA library forum: Is there a future for libraries and library staff?” Advocate: Newsletter of the National Tertiary Education Union. Vol. 19, No. 2 July, 2012. Web.

Jaffe, Eric. “The Book-Burning Campaign That Saved a Public Library.” The Atlantic Cities, June 29, 2012. Web. March 18, 2014. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2012/06/book-burning-campaign-saved-public-library/2412/

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