Sunday, 24 June 2012


Ray Bradbury – visionary and futurist though he was – had scant regard for the omnipresent internet which he called a 'distraction', perhaps seeing its ephemeral, transient nature as a threat to the library and the book as potentially disastrous as that of the regime of the book-burners described in his Fahrenheit 451.

So he might – or might not – have been amused to learn that a proposal will be made to the Internet Engineering Task Force for a new error code of 451 to be defined for use in instances where access to sites is unsuccessful not because of a technological glitch, but because some authority has imposed censorship and denied access.

At present, websites that have been legally blocked return status code '403 Forbidden', which is inaccurate since it means that the server (the website itself) is refusing you access, when it's actually your ISP, the government or some other authority that's keeping you away from the data you're seeking. Being advised of a 451 code ('451 Unavailable for Legal Reasons') would provide an indication that  the unavailability is down to censorship rather than your computer or the website,

'We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech,' says Tim Bray who is proposing the adoption of code 451. 'On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently... While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful. Also, since the internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the net, in the year of his death.'

You can read the full story here in The Guardian.

Cartoon: Toothpaste for Dinner


Matt said...

I think he would be proud, I think it is incredibly appropriate and a great homage to a great man.

Anonymous said...

Though he might take some pride in the honor, I think that pride would be far outweighed by his disgust that such a thing was necessary, that we have, in effect made so little progress towards real intellectual freedom, and that so many of us are still, perhaps more than ever, under the control of repressive government and business interests who determine what we can do and what we can think.

Boll Weavil said...

The acknowledgement that some connection between the restraints Bradbury saw in his police state future and the ones we have now would be a step forward.We do tend to see ourselves as 'free' now and without restrictions.That Bradbury brought these more into the public domain and heightened our awareness of them makes him an ideal recipient of the 'honour'