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Ray Bradbury's story "The Pedestrian" is set in a futuristic nightmare world in which technology has taken over everything and people are dehumanized. Mr. Mead, not unlike Ray Bradbury himself, is out of step with the increasingly mechanized world. Mr. Mead takes pleasure in simple, human things such as going for walks by himself at night. This used to be a commonplace activity for human beings. They would often stop and talk to neighbors sitting on their front porches. But by this unspecified date in the future it is considered a sign of abnormality or criminal intentions. At the very end of the story the author describes what the city looks like at night. Everybody is inside watching television. Everybody is isolated.
The car moved down the empty river-bed streets and off away, leaving the empty streets with the empty side-walks, and no sound and no motion all the rest of the chill November night.
Mr. Mead is not arrested by a policeman but by a car that functions like a robot. It does not have robots driving it, but the car itself is the robot. Mr. Mead, technically speaking, is not being arrested but being taken into protective custody on the grounds that he is a danger to himself. There must be something wrong with him if he goes out walking in the dark. Maybe he is a victim of Alzheimer's disease! Maybe he is lost. That apparently is why the robot-car tells him:
"Now if you had a wife to give you an alibi," said the iron voice. "But-"
If he had a wife she could testify that he is not lost but has an eccentricity about taking walks by himself at night. He is not a cat burglar or potential rapist. He is obviously a harmless, innocent man, but the fact that he goes walking when every normal person is secluded at home watching television makes him appear mentally unsound.
"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."
Punch-slotted cards were predecessors of modern-day computers.
Mr. Mead, like Ray Bradbury, is a writer. But he hasn't written anything for years.
Magazines and books didn't sell any more. Everything went on in the tomblike houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multicolored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.
Bradburn was obviously concerned about the introduction of the new medium of television. "The Pedestrian" was published in 1951. Television hadn't been introduced to the American public until World War II ended, and it took a long while for the reception quality and the program content to make the medium popular. As a writer Bradbury naturally felt threatened. The print media of books and magazines were in danger of losing their dominance and possibly even being totally supplanted by the new mindless, hypnotic audio-visual menace. "The Pedestrian" is history as well as fiction. Now in the twenty-first century we can see that Bradbury's fears were partly justified and partly exaggerated.
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