Ray Bradbury must have felt personally threatened by the epidemic of television which was causing TV antennae to sprout like fungus on roofs all over America. Bradbury was a creative writer, and TV could put a lot of creative writers out of work. When Mead tells the robot-car he is a writer, the robot-voice records: "No profession."
"You might say that, " said Mr. Mead. He hadn't written in years. Magazines and books didn't sell any more. Everything went on in the tomblike houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multicolored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.
Television was not marketed to the American public until after World War II ended in 1945. Manufacturers of all kinds were too heavily engaged in wartime production. TV was still in its infancy when Bradbury published "The Pedestrian" in 1951. The programming was local and of poor quality. As Mead notes:
"Hello, in there," he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. "What's up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?"
A lot of the programming consisted of showing old cowboy movies, which were cheap and plentiful. There were also lots of old-time comedy shorts with people throwing pies at each other. But everyone could see that TV was the wave of the future. As more people bought TV sets, advertising on television became more lucrative, which meant that the broadcasters could afford better programs. There were also numerous technical problems to be overcome before a broadcast could be viewed all over America. The solution involved setting up networks that could re-transmit audio and video from one place to another.
Magazines used to print lots of fiction before TV became a competitor. Perhaps as much as fifty percent of the content of magazines was fiction. Even newspapers published short stories, typically in their Sunday supplements. Nowadays it is rare to see a short story in any slick magazine except The New Yorker--and that magazine has cut way back on the amount of fiction it offers. Before World War II there might have been as many as four short stories or short humor pieces in an edition of The New Yorker. Now we see that there is usually only one story and many serious articles. People who are looking for diversion and escape turn to television.
So Ray Bradbury, who had so many ideas and wrote so many short stories, felt financially threatened by the new medium. That was probably his main motive for writing "The Pedestrian." It turned out that Bradbury was one of the writers who not only survived but prospered. Many of his stories and novels were adapted to television. But there were scores of other writers who fell by the wayside. The so-called "pulp magazines" perished quickly. There used to be long rows of pulps in drugstores and other shops. There were many different categories of pulps, including Western, Romance, True Confession, True Detective, Private Detective, and Outdoor Adventure. Now these magazines would only be collectors' items.
What Bradbury predicted has in part come true. There are a great many couch potatoes in America. Television is also a blessing for sick and elderly people however. It provides much entertainment and information for small children--but there is cause for concern that they are too heavily influences by all the commercials for toys, gooey breakfast cereals, and other things.
One of Bradbury's purposes in writing "The Pedestrian" is to display the dangers in a world where conformity dominates. The futuristic setting is a reminder to the reader that individuality is the primary threat to a controlling authority.
Leonard Mead values his individuality. He revels in being unique. The story makes clear that he had been walking for years and that he had enjoyed the idea of being on his own while everyone else was watching television inside their homes. His individualist stance is confirmed with Bradbury's description of being a "lone figure" on streets that were "silent and long and empty." When Mead walks, he speaks to the people in the houses, asking them about what they are watching. He does this as a way to accentuate how different he is from them. Bradbury uses Mead to display how difference challenges the forces of homogeneity.
The society of 2052 is one where technology has created a sense of sameness. Everyone has a "viewing screen," and does the same thing every night. As a result, the authority, in the form of the police, has been able to maintain control. However, Mead is the anomaly because he walks. He is arrested because of his difference. He walks with no distinct purpose and does not fit in the carefully designed contours that authority has created. Bradbury highlights the dangers of a world that suppresses individuality in the name of control. When we see no response to Mead's statement that they are passing his house, it operates as a silencing of non- conformist people in a world that embraces sameness.
The setting of the future makes the story haunting. It helps Bradbury accomplish his purpose because it offers a vision of what might be. The world of 2052 is a logical extension of the failure to be vigilant about technology's usage and authority's controlling nature. The story becomes an ominous warning as opposed to something static and impossible to envision.