Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt and There Will Come Soft Rains:
Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt and There Will Come Soft Rains, despite being originally published in 1950, contain the phobias of our mechanized life which remain relevant today. The only reason they come off considerably dated is because of how much later fiction has continued the stories’ premises. The go to references for the mechanized household have given way to the likes of Videodrome and Ultrahouse 3000. The Veldt’s nursery is more likely recognized in popular culture as the holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The home-made-machine isn’t just a thing of fiction; it has a very real world counterpart.
From where I currently sit, in my home, I count nine electronic entertainment systems. They are phones, computers, televisions, and gaming systems both console and handheld. That’s not to exclude plenty of other electronics with purposes predating the story. The microwave oven, for instance, wouldn’t see use in homes for over a decade. The time these stories came out marked a major change in the daily to day operations of in the American house hold. The rise in home appliances which were affordable to the middle class represented the rise of more luxurious living and status. Televisions and refrigerators became items families boasted to their neighbors and families. This was the same movement which Dr. William Moulton Marston based his loose theories on the rise of female agency in the household. Live becomes easier with the more modern the more plugs there are.
Now, Bradbury addresses these concerns in two notably different ways in the stories. Both emphasize the replacement of humanity in the household. The Veldt is the more direct of the two whereby the children as sucked into the potential of the nursery. They conjure up their own parents to play out a perverse fantasy before finally turning on their own flesh and blood. There Will Come Soft Rains carries that message. It shows the world as it is when humans are completely replaced. The mechanical house continues on its mission of staying proper out to what would be a maddening extent. What little life enters the home, the machine outlives. However, it is by inevitability that the natural world will consume and burn down the metal home.
So what does this say about our times? Well that’s iffy. The notion of machines dominating our lives is one we struggle with far more so today than ever before. Artist Ajit Johnson released a series of images called #ThisGeneration. They express his concerns with Millennial youth, one of the most common themes is anti-social behavior and a lack of traditional literacy. It falls in line with another Bradbury story, Fahrenheit 541, where society is kept tame and docile by the destruction of literature, replaced with dull thought killing televisions, which bare a strong resemblance to the ones we have today. So, is this mindset right? Well, no.
The major element Bradbury failed to predict and Johnson failed to understand is that these things we have aren’t nearly as an issue. Yes, it’s true that we spend far too much time online, that doing so is unhealthy, it might be contributing to a whole slew of physical and mental issues which plague our country and many others, and no self-respecting parent should give a child an iPad as their sole plaything, but these things we use have one major purpose, they’re communicators. Phones, computers, even gaming systems, all have heavy social factors into them. People have the potential to become far more aware of the world and people around them. These technologies make our lives easier so that we can aspire to grander goals. It’s so much so that our campus has multiple school-wide services, Banner, Canvas, and MyUMW which connect, inform, and maintain how the environment functions. Research and access to texts is far easier now than it was before. Technology isn’t a captor, an inhibitor, or an isolator. It’s a tool, and it only become detrimental when we forget to unplug.