I have to confess, the most luxurious, decadent purchase I have made in the past 3 years has been an automatic grind-and-brew coffee maker! Being able to walk downstairs smelling the freshly brewed coffee and having my cup ready has transformed my mornings. In “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” Ray Bradbury reveals the danger in my new morning routine.
Much of science fiction has been devoted to problematizing our belief that technology is inherently beneficial to humanity. A great example of this comes in Jurassic Park (1996): in a twist on the Frankenstein-motif, scientist genetically resurrect dinosaurs, who ultimately take over the theme park. As one of the characters, Dr. Ian Malcolm, succinctly articulates this tension – science is about the “could” and does not consider the “should.” Science fiction has then an either-or/zero-sum approach to technological advancement.
What’s most interesting about Bradbury’s short story is presents the future as neither a dystopian or utopia . The reader is simply shown a world where technology has continued without humanity, a world indifferent to our absence.
The story opens with the automated house starting its morning routine: a synthetic voice chimes, “Seven o’clock, time to get up,” while breakfast is prepared by the kitchen. This world is not unfamiliar to us today. With the emergence of The Internet of Things , we have gained the ability to our homes control the temperature, monitor the front door, let us know when we are low on milk, and even feed out pets.
Only as the story moves the reader to home’s exterior do we learn what has happened to the McClellan family who once lived in the home:
The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.
Bradbury reveals we are in a post-nuclear holocaust world. The “photographs” here are the burnt outlines of the family the moment they were incinerated. Bradbury draws from the images of the aftermath following the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Most disturbing about Bradbury’s future is how technology will simply go on without us. The home, who turns out to be the main character, is indifferent to the absence of the McClellans. A moment this becomes most evident is when the house selects a poem to read, Sara Teasdale’s “There will come soft rains.” Teasdale undercuts the humanity’s vanity arguing for Nature’s indifference:
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
The question that we as readers must address is whether Bradbury’s story is a warning about our seeking salvation in technology or simply the inevitable result of our advancing technology, a world without us.