How does technology influence conformity in Fahrenheit 451?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The relationship between technology and conformity is an important one in Fahrenheit 451. The novel takes place in an imagined vision of the future where people are constantly surrounded by video screens blasting television shows as well as always hearing voices and news through their seashell ear pieces. All entertainment is sanctioned by the government, and writing and books forbidden.

The result is that all the information people consume comes from the systems of power that already exist. While our society has freedom of the press and you can pick up any number of books, documentaries, or other media from libraries that may contradict, critique, or enforce our society's beliefs, the same is not true of the world in Fahrenheit 451. By controlling the media that the people in that world consume, the power systems ensure that everybody will continue to conform.

All the media the characters of the book consume is concerned with distraction. The seashell ear pieces are loud and constantly on, rarely giving people time to think original thoughts. It's difficult to be an individual person when you don't have the ability to think outside what's being fed to you; at the end of the book, it's only the characters who have actively sought out forbidden literature that are able to break free of their society.

Similarly, the video screens function as entertainment and control. The citizens of this society engage with the films because they're entertaining, but they also encourage belonging. Characters like Mildred want to please the people in the films, which are interactive, making them even more appealing and important.

The society in Fahrenheit 451 prioritizes technology in their society as being the most important thing, with writing being forbidden. State-sanctioned entertainment means that characters aren't exposed to anything that might challenge their perspective, enforcing their emphasis on conformity. While it might not seem like entertainment could have that profound of an effect, when your access is restricted to alternative thoughts, especially with their thoughts being interrupted by the seashell ear pieces.

The way that technology influences conformity here is indirect--they're not using any kind of magical power or brainwashing techniques, but rather subtle technologies to keep people from thinking freely. When people can't think freely, they're less likely to question or challenge the dominant systems of power, making them docile, malleable citizens that conform to their society's wishes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are a number of ways technology influences conformity in Fahrenheit 451 .  One of the most obvious is the seashell radio, which Mildred listens to as she is sleeping. “And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind...”  The sounds of the radio help Mildred ignore the things in her society that make her uncomfortable.  The television wall is also a good example.  People like Mildred become invested in the fake world and the fake “family” they see there;...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

this makes them less likely to worry about their own family and the problems they see in their own world.

The mechanical hound is another technological marvel that enforces conformity.  Montag is a fireman, but he is afraid of the hound, which seems to know that there is something not quite right about Montag.  “It was half across the lawn, coming from the shadows, moving with such drifting ease that it was like a single solid cloud of black-grey smoke blown at him in silence. It made a single last leap into the air, coming down at Montag from a good three feet over his head, its spidered legs reaching, the procaine needle snapping out its single angry tooth.”  The hound is a threat to those in the society who choose not to conform.  Montag fears the hound because he is searching for answers; he cannot accept society as it is and “go along to get along.”

The Salamander, of course, is also a way that technology influences conformity.  It is the symbol of the firemen, who come for those who are courageous enough to have ideas.  When the Salamander races to its destination, it makes a point to all who are watching: conform or die.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team