How does technology influence conformity in Fahrenheit 451?

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mkbrinks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

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Fahrenheit 451

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