Mr. Leonard Mead is a lone pedestrian, a man who walks the streets in the year 2053, a time when walking outside on the sidewalks is considered an unusual activity.
As he walks along on a November evening, "sending patterns of frosty air before him like the smoke of a cigar," Mr. Mead walks in sneakers so that he does not alert dogs who bark and sometimes follow him. Mr. Mead sees only dim lights when he passes houses, houses on whose grey walls shadows dance from those dim lights of television sets that family members huddle around.
"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?"
When he thinks that he hears laughter, Mr. Mead pauses and listens, hungry for the sound of human voices. But after realizing they come from indoors, he continues his walk as he has on so many other lonely nights on the desolate sidewalks. It is as if he walks in a graveyard.
During the day, Mr. Mead has nowhere to go because he no longer has a job as a writer. Now there is no need for writers because people do not read anymore; instead, they merely sit inside their houses, their "tombs" as he calls them, watching television like "the dead."
As Mr. Mead begins his return home to an empty house, he is surprised by a lone car that suddenly flashes a white light.
A metallic voice called to him: "Stand still. Stay where you are! Don't move!" He halted. "Put up your hands!" "But—" he said. "Your hands up! Or we'll shoot!"
Amazed that the one police car in a city of three million people has discovered him, Mr. Mead is asked his name and profession. When he replies that he is a writer, the automated voice says, "No profession." Then the voice asks him if he has a viewing screen in his house, and Mr. Mead replies "No." After he explains that he is not married and he walks every evening, Mr. Mead hears the door of the police car open and he is told to get inside. The car drives down his street and Mr. Mead sees his house, illuminated in the night by the lights in all the rooms. But the car does not stop; Mr. Mead is being taken to the "Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.”