On October 19, 1953 a small New York publishing house, Ballantine Books, which had been founded the year before by the Ballantines, publishes a novel destined to leave a very strong mark on our way of looking to the future. That novel is Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, who was 33 at the time, had written it and had not yet signed a big hit.
Two years earlier in the basement of the University of Los Angeles bookstore, using a rented typewriter for 10 cents per mez’zora, he had written in 9 days a tale titled The Fireman, the fireman, in which there were many themes that we will find in the novel. The story was published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, the Ballantines had intercepted it and asked him for a more extended version. It seems that in the same basement, in another 9 days, Bradbury completed the novel that had this cryptic title which then became a meme of the digital world: Fahrenheit 451, or 233 degrees centigrade, “the temperature at which paper books catch fire and burn”.
Experts have long debated whether the indicated temperature is correct and applies to all types of paper, but that’s not the point. The point is the story, set in the future (probably 2049, but according to some today) of a society where books are banned and firefighters, if they find them, have to burn them. In the United States those are the years of McCarthyism, books, certain books, are scary; Bradbury hates the bullying of authority and is wary of the mass media that are taking over (radio and TV). The book, despite having a troubled path, becomes his greatest success and a cultural reference point, indeed of the counterculture. When director Michael Moore tries to tell the world after 11 September 2001, the film calls it Fahrenheit 9/11, explaining it as “the temperature at which freedom burns”.
Despite being a reference for many exponents of digital culture, Bradbury has always opposed the Internet (“it’s a big distraction”) to the point of being opposite to the ebook version of his book until 2011, when he was 91 years old (“ebooks smell like burnt gasoline,” he once said). He died the following year and is occasionally reminded why in his novels there are at least a dozen technological predictions which were then realized (such as earphones and large flat TVs). But it also predicted the arrival of an authoritarian society based on censorship.