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Television was not introduced to the American public until after World War II ended in 1945. This was because industry was totally committed to the war effort. By 1951, when "The Pedestrian" was published, television was taking hold of the entire country. The programs were still all in black and white. Reception was not totally reliable. People tended to watch the screens in darkened rooms. So the only lighting to be seen through their windows by a pedestrian would be coming from the television screens. The lighting would be reflected against the interior walls and would keep flickering because the scenes on the screens would keep changing. The actors moving around on the screens would cast darker shadows among the flickering lights. It was a nationwide obsession. Suddenly the houses had all sprouted fungus-like antenna on their roofs and the rooms had suddenly become darkened. The inhabitants were all isolated from their neighbors, and they seemed like cave dwellers sitting around an open fire whose dancing flames were creating dancing shadows.
Television had--and still has--an hypnotic effect. You can see the strange looks in people's eyes as they stare at their lighted screens. There are countless millions of sick people, old people, and unemployed people who do nothing but watch television. This hypnotic effect is especially noticeable with young children, who like to sit on the floor close to the TV set and who seem to be totally spellbound by pictures and voices. Bradbury never liked technology, and he thought this new medium was a terrible threat just because it was so captivating. Bradbury's description of the homes seen from the outside by a lone pedestrian pretty well captures what they looked like at night in 1951.
...it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows. Sudden gray phantoms seemed to manifest upon inner room walls where a curtain was still undrawn against the night, or there were whisperings and murmurs where a window in a tomblike building was still open.
He attributes the light to "fireflies" because there would be no other illumination in a graveyard at night.
Television was such a new development that young people today can probably not imagine how it affected American families at the time. It was fascinating--but also, for some people, frightening. It was like having hordes of strangers barging right into your home and bringing you their troubles, their passions, their politics, their religions, and their commercial importunities. Some intellectuals thought that television would afford great educational and cultural benefits to the masses--but this has not happened.
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