Lessons From Fahrenheit 451 for the Modern Day

The novel Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian work of fiction set in the United States in which, as propaganda aimed at controlling people’s minds via an enforced religion and state-controlled media decreases, books are outlawed. The protagonist eventually rebels against this regime and destroys their society. This book explores themes such as censorship, free speech, government control of information and how it can be subverted.,

In the book, Fahrenheit 451, protagonist Guy Montag struggles to keep his life from falling into insignificance in a time when newspapers are banned and media is nonexistent. His quest for knowledge makes him an effective fireman who resists the government’s efforts to control citizens’ minds through propaganda of “fire safety.” Today we’re seeing similar themes play out with our own lives as new technologies come along that seek to regulate what information can be accessed by society. What should you do if your livelihood depends on access to social networks or online news? How will you resist these attempts at controlling how much we consume or understand about ourselves?

“The book is a fireman’s best friend. It consumes the time and offers distraction from the monotony of his job.” are just some of the quotes that relate to today.

Fahrenheit 451 lessons illustration.

While novels like 1984 and Brave New World are receiving a lot of attention right now due to the current political situation in the United States, I believe there is a classic dystopian title that ought to be read (and re-read) even more: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Even if you haven’t read the book, you’re probably familiar with the plot: Firemen will no longer put out flames; instead, they will set fire to stacks of books. Books have been declared illegal, and anybody found with them is considered a criminal whose cache will be burnt, sometimes along with the courageous reader.

Guy Montag, a fireman, meets a couple of individuals who assist him modify his perspective about books and, in particular, the ideas contained inside them.

While 1984 and Brave New World provide frightening views of a future that some claim is already here, Fahrenheit 451 is full of optimism and gives suggestions for how people may fight — not the government specifically, but the age’s shallowness and thoughtlessness.

Let’s take a look at a few particular takeaways from Bradbury’s masterwork.

Vote with your clicks and dollars if you want better media.

“To destroy a civilization, you don’t have to burn books. “All you have to do is get people to quit reading them.”

Books in the dystopian future depicted in Fahrenheit 451 gradually lost their value over time. The written word began to appear too sluggish and monotonous, particularly in compared to the various kinds of media that were accessible, as society continued to move at a quicker speed (literally – automobiles go so quickly that billboards must extend 200 feet long to be viewable). Instead of reading, many opted to remain at home and watch the “parlor walls” – large television displays — or attend to a sports event. To fulfill the requirements of ever-shrinking attention spans, publishers reduced novels into shorter and shorter works, yet demand for even these “Cliffs Notes” dwindled.

Eventually, the government simply outlawed books, claiming that the population would be happier if they didn’t have to cope with reading and difficult-to-understand concepts.

Given the present state of the media, it’s a scenario that doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

To cater to individuals who scream “TL;DR!” at anything above 500 words, articles and books have been made progressively shorter (or completely replaced by videos). Soundbites and 140-character tweets are often used in news and discussions.

Many people shake their heads at these developments, as if they were sparked by mysterious powers and greedy media conglomerates. The responsibility lies with “those folks” over “there.”

Media firms do, after all, seek to earn money. However, they can only do so by meeting customer expectations. Short, dumbed-down material is provided if the customer wants it. Clickbait headlines wouldn’t exist if they weren’t successful in generating clicks.

The truth is that it is the general population, not companies, who are accountable for our media. Everyone, including you and me. The material that websites and media businesses produce is heavily influenced by how you focus your attention, what subscriptions you’re prepared to pay for, and what you click/share/retweet.


That’s what you’ll receive if you vote for quality with your clicks. If you vote for bite-sized fluff bits, you’ll receive an infinite supply.

Until, like in Bradbury’s fiction, all knowledge becomes trivial and seems meaningless to the point where it might be openly outlawed and just be met with a shrug of the shoulders.

Without context, facts are useless.

“Stuff them with non-combustible material, so many ‘facts’ that they feel crammed, yet they’re totally ‘smart’ with knowledge.” Then they’ll feel as if they’re thinking, and they’ll feel as if they’re moving without really moving. And they’ll be pleased since such realities do not alter. Give them nothing slick to tie things up with, such as philosophy or sociology. That’s where you’ll find sadness.”

Our current culture is obsessed with gathering information, the majority of which comes from social media and online publications. We believe that reading about the news (which is frequently simply the headlines) and keeping up with what our Facebook friends are doing to makes us knowledgeable, informed citizens.

To some extent, it does. Having some knowledge of simple facts is unquestionably preferable than having none. The difficulty, particularly nowadays, is that you might hear quite diverse information about the same topic by just watching the news or reading articles on the internet. It’s difficult to know who to believe, how to figure out what the truth is about a topic (if that’s even possible), and how to build an educated opinion about anything. We just push the “Share” button or re-tweet something after reading a headline that we believe delivers some fresh information rather than undertaking the hard effort of accomplishing those things.

In today’s environment, being well-informed doesn’t really matter or distinguish you. Even if it may seem so, just knowing isn’t enough. You feel fulfilled and incredibly “smart” when you’re full of knowledge, as Bradbury states above. But are you sincere?

Knowing facts does not make our world better or move us ahead. The “slippery things like philosophy or sociology” is what allows mind and action to evolve. What important is thinking deeply, connecting ideas, understanding the context of those ideas, and solving issues using your mental model toolbox.

Montag’s wise mentor, Faber, explains it best:

“You don’t need books; you need some of the things that used to be in books.” There’s nothing special about them. “The enchantment is solely in what books say, in how they put the universe’s pieces together into one garment for us,” says the author.

You don’t need any other information. You’ll need new methods to connect the dots in the globe.

Let’s take a short look at Paleo dieting as an example. In the past decade, many people have adopted what they assume to be a caveman’s diet. Every morning, eggs, lots of meat and fish, almonds, leafy vegetables, and so forth. This is predicated on the knowledge that certain foods were accessible to our ancient predecessors, who were likely healthier than their present, overweight offspring. 


But it isn’t that easy. “Would paleo man have truly eaten three eggs every morning?” Kamal Patel wondered in his podcast with Brett. Rather of eating the same item every day, it’s more probable that early people had a diversified diet depending on what they could hunt and forage at the time and season. They probably alternated between fasting and feasting, and ate a variety of foods that are now extinct or appear quite different than they did 10,000 years ago (though of course some are also remarkably similar).

Furthermore, can we be certain that a caveman diet is the optimal diet for everyone in the twenty-first century? It’s more probable that people have diverse demands and that different diet plans will suit them.

See how adding a little bit of history, archaeology, and current nutrition to the basic facts of “knowing” what comprised a caveman’s diet generates a totally different image than the simple facts of “knowing” what formed a caveman’s diet?

So, how does one go about looking at concepts through multiple lenses and connecting them rather than merely collecting facts?

Read a broad variety of books, including fiction and nonfiction. Consider all sides of an argument – or go one step farther and disregard both, forming your own perspective or theory in the process (one based on evidence, of course). Investigate many fields such as biology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and physics; focus on understanding how the world works rather than pop culture. An ancient Greek epic may provide you with more insight into the present world than a snappy online headline (or even an evening broadcast) could ever provide.

Allowing fictional characters to become your “family” is not a good idea.

In social circumstances, as a guy in his late twenties, I feel as if I’m supposed to know all there is to know about popular culture. Inside jokes are based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, allusions to Breaking Bad’s Walter White are made (even here on AoM), and Queen Bey’s forthcoming twins are discussed.

To be honest, it’s a lot to keep up of. If you’re not up to date on what’s going on in the world of sports and entertainment, you may feel completely out of the loop. I’d never heard of Chance the Rapper before, so I felt a little out of the loop when everyone was buzzing about his Grammy victory a few months ago.

It’s become fashionable to be a Netflix or Hulu “binger” (and sure, my wife and I are guilty at times — we plowed through The Crown and adored it).

When we’re not in front of the TV, we’re distracted by another screen, whether it’s a phone, laptop, or tablet. The average American spends more than 10 hours a day in front of a screen. This may be deceiving; if you work in an office for 8 or 9 hours a day, that’s the majority of your time. Even still, if you’re being honest, you know that you spend a lot of your time outside the workplace gazing at illuminated rectangles.  


While this is a sad tribute to the eventual loss of “analog” experiences — the way digital terabytes have become replacements for flesh and blood connections — it is also a monument to the inevitable loss of “analog” experiences.

Guy Montag notices this in his own home and attempts to put a stop to it by asking his wife, “Will you turn off the parlor [television]?” To which she responds angrily, “That’s my family.”

His wife is unable to endure the notion of turning off the television since the characters provide her with company.

This theme of her family providing entertainment is repeated throughout the narrative, and it has stayed with me. It’s a little ridiculous, but when you think about it, our lives aren’t all that dissimilar. In many ways, the individuals we see on our screens — whether they’re online superstars or TV program characters — have become our extended family. We spend a great deal of time with them, we quote them, and we desire to be just like them. We schedule our weekdays and nights around the times when particular programs air (or will be accessible online). We look at what happens in a fictitious novel and come up with “fan theories” on how the worlds work. Meanwhile, we may be oblivious to the intricacies, narrative twists, and character arcs of our own loved ones and the communities that surround us.

Make an attempt to give your fictitious family less credibility and more time and effort than your real-life family. (That’s slang for “in real life” on the internet.)  

It’s not only about the substance; it’s also about the conversation.  

“‘I lurk around and listen in subways on occasion.’ Or, you know what, I listen in soda fountains.’ ‘What?’

‘No one speaks about anything!’

‘Oh, they have to!’

‘No, not at all.’ They usually identify a lot of automobiles, clothing, or swimming pools and exclaim how great they are! But they all say the same things, and no one says anything that isn’t spoken by everyone else.’

To be honest, many of my phone talks with relatives (particularly the boys) are a bit superficial. There’s a lot of talk about sports and the weather. Occasionally, a query concerning a home improvement project arises. And, of course, I keep you up to speed on how our kid is doing and if he’s added any new words to his increasing vocabulary.

However, there isn’t much substance in terms of how work is going, the overall mood of the family (which varies dramatically with a toddler), our opinions on current events, and so on. And when such queries do arise, I’m guilty of giving a fast response: “Everything is OK!”

I also observe the similar tendency when I’m around pals. We seldom go deeper than the superficial dirt of weather, sports, and fast work updates, for example. It can sometimes travel deeper into bedrock, but it requires some kind of incident – being laid off, having a breakup, being sick, etc.

While small chat and even apparently superficial issues may frequently grease the wheels towards deeper topics of discussion, you can’t remain flat with the people you love and connect with on a regular basis. In this manner, momentum is lost. Relationships may get stale over time. We don’t bring up our worries, aspirations, or even the intriguing things we’ve learned that day since the prospect of a disagreement or dispute, or even just not receiving confirmation, scares us.


Throughout the novel, Guy Montag is aware of this. Nothing of substance is ever discussed in his circle of “friends.” It focuses on whining about children, local gossip, political nonsense, and, of course, the “family” in the TV parlor. He’s admonished and labeled insane when he attempts to bring up larger thoughts about the culture they live in, or even when he tries to read poetry aloud. As a result, he begins to believe he is insane.

We need to be able to speak about significant topics with other people beyond the newest smartphone applications or the new automobile you got in order for life to have texture and purpose. As Susan Neiman correctly points out, asking large questions — especially moral and value-based ones — is a sign of maturation.

My challenge to you is to share your views and questions with your friends and family, rather than only having those dialogues and thoughts with yourself (Step 1, as mentioned above). Inquire about your wife’s or girlfriend’s dreams (and inquire about them again and again, since they’ll most likely develop and, in some cases, change completely over time). Share your comments on a book you recently read with your friends. Even better, read some powerful poetry out loud! You could be genuinely laughed at, but you might not, and there’s really no danger if you’re among pals.

It’s all about the substance. Next time you’re speaking with a friend or a loved one, take a chance and bring up something significant.

In a world of clickbait headlines and “hot views” on current events and trends, being able to think for yourself and value community and family lets you stand out from the crowd, allowing you to avoid getting thrown about by whatever cultural current is gaining traction at the time. Follow Guy Montag’s example. Rather of stoking the flames of pop culture and political argument and letting your attention span smolder to ashes, take a break now and then to extinguish the ever-burning light of your smartphone and restore the virtues of deep knowledge, face-to-face connections, and genuine dialogue.



In the dystopian classic “Fahrenheit 451”, Guy Montag is a fireman who has been tasked with burning books. One day, he meets his match in the form of an old man who convinces him that books are not meant to be burned and can have a positive impact on society. Reference: fahrenheit 451 lesson.

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