In the story, "The Pedestrian," why does Leonard want to avoid drawing attention to himself? Why are the streets deserted?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Pedestrian" was set in 2051, about 100 years in the future when the story was published. The author was predicting a future in which the streets of the city were deserted at night because everybody was inside watching television. Leonard Mead, the pedestrian, could see through their windows the ghostly lights and shadows made by the shows they were watching. He kept a low profile because he didn't want people to think he was a burglar. In 2053 he was a suspicious figure just because he was walking all alone at night. No one would understand that he was walking because he enjoyed walking. Why would anyone want to walk around at night when there was so much to be seen on television? Some people might even phone the police if they saw him walking alone outside in the dark, even though it was only around eight o'clock.

For long ago he had wisely changed to sneakers when strolling at night, because the dogs in intermittent squads would parallel his journey with barkings if he wore hard heels, and lights might click on and faces appear and an entire street be startled by the passing of a lone figure, himself, in the early November evening. 

Bradbury is describing a futuristic world in which people drive to and from the stores and to and from work, a world in which they stay inside their houses watching television, getting all their information about the world from the lighted screen and never observing anything for themselves. The sidewalks are all deteriorating because no one ever walks on them,  even in the daytime. Why should they when they have cars?

The cement was vanishing under flowers and grass. In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not once in all that time.

It was inevitable that Leonard Mead should attract police attention sooner or later. He finds it impossible to explain to the robot cop why he is out walking at night. Eventually the car orders him to get inside. He asks:

"Where are you taking me?" The car hesitated, or rather gave a faint whirring click, as if information, somewhere, was dropping card by punch-slotted card under electric eyes. "To the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies."

The story may have seemed frightening in 1951 when television was just beginning to take hold of the American consciousness, but today the story only seems a little eerie and a bit comical. There are still plenty of live policemen patrolling the streets. The only robotic voices that give us any trouble are the ones we try to talk to on the telephone.

Ray Bradbury had a sort of phobia about technology. His story resembles the Woody Allen movie Sleeper (1973) as well as the Charlie Chaplin classic film Modern Times (1936), and the classic German science-fiction film titled Metropolis (1927). It is impossible to take "The Pedestrian" seriously in 2015, but it still makes an enjoyable read. It is more like a slice of history than a prediction and a warning. That was the way a lot of people foresaw the future in 1951. They thought there would be cameras in all the homes monitoring everybody's activities and microphones catching every word they said. Nobody cares that much about us. People seems to be using technology to communicate with each other rather than being isolated and dehumanized by technology. 

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