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Ray Bradbury's "The Pedestrian" was published in 1951, so the date he sets for his futuristic story is one hundred years ahead. (He could not be sure precisely when it would appear in print, so he was thinking in terms of what could happen in the next one hundred years.) The purpose of the tale is to suggest what is going to happen to people and civilization in the next one hundred years. It is like a short-story version of Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World or George Orwell's novel 1984.
Television is the biggest threat, as the author sees it. People are going to be staying at home watching television rather than getting outside and doing things and experiencing reality. The pedestrian is one of the few people who goes walking just for the pleasure of seeing things and exercising his mind and body. The ones who stay at home glued to their television screens are turning into couch potatoes--a term that did not exist in 1951, but is certainly pertinent now!
Television was a new innovation. It was not promoted to the American public until after World War II ended in 1945 because all the American factories were fully engaged in around-the-clock wartime production. Then television developed slowly during the early years because the programming was not terribly interesting and it took a long time to develop networks and sell sets to everybody. But Bradbury could see the television antennae sprouting on the rooftops all around him and could foresee that the new medium was going to have a hypnotic and mostly negative influence on the American people.
Many intelligent, educated people were afraid of the possible effects of television in the 1950s. It seemed like mindless diversion. They feared the negative effects of television on their children, the viewers who were most vulnerable. The TV set was called the "Boob Tube" and "The Idiot Box," among other things. Whether the medium has been a good or bad thing is still an open question. So far the situation is not as bad as Bradbury predicted. Many people still go out at night, and there are no robots patrolling the streets--yet! People still read books, attend parties and other social functions, even go to night school by the millions. Some of the television programming is actually pretty good, especially CNN and PBS. Bradbury was a rather eccentric man. He didn't even drive a car. He disliked most technological innovations. According to his futuristic vision, by the year 2053 anybody walking on the streets at night was immediately a suspect, probably a burglar or rapist on the prowl. The pedestrian, Leonard Mead, a harmless writer, is stopped by a robot police car and grilled by a robotic voice.
He was within a block of his destination when the lone car turned a corner quite suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him. He stood entranced, not unlike a night moth, stunned by the illumination, and then drawn toward it. A metallic voice called to him: "Stand still. Stay where you are! Don't move!" He halted. "Put up your hands!" "But-" he said. "Your hands up! Or we'll Shoot!"
Mead manages to talk himself out of getting arrested for walking and makes it back to his home, where he has no television and doesn't want one. It seems unlikely that he will venture out at night again.
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