Paul Greenberg

News item, July 8, 2010: "The periodical shelves at Stanford University are nearly bare. Library chief Helen Josephine says that in the past five years, more engineering periodicals have been moved online, making their print versions pretty obsolete -- and books aren't doing much better. ... (E)ventually, there won't be any books on the shelves at all."

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." --Ray Bradbury

The robotic voice, recorded on an endless loop, droned on in the C Level cafetorium, explaining the dangers represented by that dangerous artifact of an earlier civilization, the book.

The bored work crews filtered in and out of the bare hall for their prefabricated rations, pausing now and then to use their OCDs, or Online Communications Devices. Each of the small accessories, just the right size to fit into a pocket of their government-issue coveralls, was licensed, limited and certified to have no more links than necessary to barracks, work station, National Public Agitprop, and the current Top Ten beatmusiks.

Jaws masticated, thumbs clicked keyboards, knees jerked in time with the rap. There was no melody. It had been proscribed by the Prole Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2041, Title XI, Subsection A. The same clause mandated continuous lectures on the danger of preserving any "shards, pottery, ornaments, and/or books, scrolls, inscriptions or fragments thereof which archaeologists, geologists, sewer workers and affiliated trades might encounter" in their excavations.

The crew at lunch was working on the next big transmission tower in the vicinity. The towers by now had largely replaced the forests that had once stood across the countryside, for trees were suspect, too, being possible sources of paper. More towers were constantly being built to keep the public uninformed.

The masses (it was no longer permitted to refer to them as the people) demanded more towers, more Breaking News and broken musik. Anything but silence. Silence was frightening. It might leave them with no recourse but to think. Or just see, and even perceive.

In the background Frequency 24/7 never ceased. "Remember the three As," it was saying. "Beware of keeping any Artifacts, Antiques and/or Adornments, or anything else, you might come across in your dig. Any item containing words or numbers is especially dangerous. All are to be destroyed on-site or turned in to the Central Depository of Hazardous Materials by 1800 of the daycycle they are discovered. Violations will be punished beyond the limits of the law...."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.