The Seashell croons and murmurs its music and commercials and private little melodramas for her alone

Sunday, December 11th, 2022

When I first read Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451 back in eighth grade, I wasn’t surrounded by people wearing AirPods, but I suppose Walkman headphones were common enough:

Elsewhere in the narrative I described my Fire Man arriving home after midnight to find his wife in bed afflicted with two varieties of stupor. She is in a trance, a condition so withdrawn as to resemble catatonia, compounded of equal parts liquor and a small Seashell thimble-radio tucked in her ear. The Seashell croons and murmurs its music and commercials and private little melodramas for her alone. The room is silent. The husband cannot even try to guess the communion between Seashell and wife. Awakening her is not unlike applying shock to a cataleptic.

I thought I was writing a story of prediction, describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a month ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned.

The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not science fiction. This was a new fact in our changing society.

As you can see, I must start writing very fast indeed about our future world in order to stand still. I thought I had raced ahead of science, predicting the radio-induced semi-catatonic.

In the long haul, science pulled abreast, tipped its hat, and fed me the dust. The woman with the radio-thimble crammed in her ear the other night symbolized my failure to count on certain psychological needs which demanded satisfaction earlier than I supposed.

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