How do you think that television could be used to suppress people's thoughts and ideas in the story "The Pedestrian"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the future world of 2053 A.D., as foreseen by the solitary pedestrian Leonard Mead, families would not converse and interact, but would all sit in the dark, staring at the lighted television screen.

Sometimes he would walk for hours and miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows.

This would put an end to conversation, as it would to reading, and thereby impose limitations on people's thoughts. Television has a hypnotic effect; it puts people into a sort of trance in which they are most susceptible to the suggestions contained in the commercials. Furthermore, the "entertainment" offered, then and now, is largely idiotic. It has the effect of "dumbing down" an entire population. They don't think for themselves but allow the "boob tube", "the idiot box", to do their thinking for them.

"What is it now?" he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. "Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?"  

Ray Bradbury wrote "The Pedestrian" at a time when television was in its infancy. The TV screens were very small, the reception was poor at best, and the programming was cheap. Hollywood had millions of feet of old cowboy films in its repositories, and these represented a large part of what was offered. Hollywood also had a lot of old-time, slapstick comedies which suddenly acquired new value because of television. And there were many old animated cartoons - not quality ones like those of Walt Disney - but mindless, black-and-white junk full of cats chasing mice or mice chasing cats. It was not unreasonable for Bradbury to assume that the future of television was garbage. It was said by some cynics in media that the programming should be so bad that the commercials would seem like superior-quality entertainment. The worst part about modern-day television is the insane jumble of zany commercials breaking in every few minutes.

Bradbury thought that television would encourage passivity, would destroy human interaction,  and would keep people confined to their homes where they would lose touch with reality and have their minds shaped by what they saw on the little lighted screen. A certain percentage of the American population has become "couch potatoes", but fortunately that hasn't happened to everybody. Bradbury's picture of the future was either intentionally or unintentionally distorted. He was a writer, and he feared that books would be made obsolete by television, putting him out of work like Leonard Mead in his story, who tells the robot cop, "I guess you could call me a writer." The robot cop interprets that answer as "No profession." Bradbury foresees the same dismal future for books in his novel Fahrenheit 451. He has a strong tendency to exaggerate. After all, who knows what's going to happen a hundred years from now?

We can see now that television has been a mixed blessing. It offers some quality entertainment along with lots and lots of commercial interruptions. Children seem to learn from it, but it does seem to encourage mental passivity. Teachers have a harder time getting students to think and to participate. Obesity has become a national problem, both for children and adults, and television has been at least partially responsible for that. But television has not been the dystopian horror that Bradbury predicted. It has become incorporated into the home and does not seem to dominate families or destroy minds. Some people watch a lot of television and others never watch it at all. It is a blessing for people in hospitals, nursing homes, and other shut-ins, who couldn't be pedestrians even if they wanted to.

Electronic media actually seem to have a tendency to encourage the exchange of ideas and opinions. There is no sinister agency intent on controlling human thought, at least in most countries of the world, including ours.