Ray Bradbury's amazing high-tech legacy

5:55 AM, Jun 7, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Back when Ray Bradbury began to gain worldwide recognition for his work, few people could even appreciate the true genius of his vision.

In what may be his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, which takes place in a world where books are considered harmful to society, some say Bradbury presaged everything from blue-tooth headsets to flat-screen TV, self-parking cars, and even the digital "wall" that defines Facebook.

"If he saw people walking around now with their noses stuck in their iPads he would say 'I told you so forty years ago,'" said Sidney Perkowitz, a professor emeritus of physics at Emory University. Perkowitz is the author of Hollywood Science and several other books designed to open up the world of science to the rest of us.

"He was really worried how technology would separate us from each other, and he said that Fahrenheit 451 was more about that than anything else, which is quite remarkable to me," Perkowitz said.

It is no small irony that for a man enamored with the future, Ray Bradbury was firmly rooted in the past.

He never learned how to drive and only used a typewriter, not a computer. It's almost no surprise, then, that Bradbury's science fiction was more grounded in the psychological fact of humanity and its quirks.

Despite that, with tales like The Martian Chronicles, he planted the fertile seeds of space travel in the minds of future generations.

"If you ask half of the engineers at NASA, I guarantee they would say they read all these folks -- Bradbury, Heinlein, and so on when they were kids," Perkowitz said. "And that helped inspire them."

But Perkowitz adds that the author's work is far less about aliens than it is about simply being human.

"If he reminds us that technology is a great thing, and that it's going to keep coming at us... but never just take it for granted, and never automatically assume it's good, but rather think about what it means in human terms. That would be a really, really important legacy," he said.

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