George Orwell novel '1984' still relevant in 2015
March 11, 2015
In 2013, evidence of widespread surveillance actions were taken on domestic and national targets by the U.S. National Security Agency. Edward Snowden’s revelations conjure other connections to a novel written by Eric Blair–pen name George Orwell.
"1984," the novel title, is a fictionalized depiction of a society under complete control by "The Party," or "Big Brother," the totalitarian regime. The book is read from the eye of main character Winston, a worker that receives media materials and re-writes history for a more favorable Party timeline. Or, he burns the scraps of paper not aligned with Party ideology. Their slogans: war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.
In "1984," there are telescreens, which is a device present in all rooms and that all citizens have in their homes to follow demands, cheers, and minutes of hate to those Big Brother are at war with.
Social media creators are in collusion with the NSA, at least at some level. Tweets on Twitter are equal to one thought. There seems to be modern newspeak, which in "1984" was a shortened, bare-bones language meant to strip creativity. Text messages on mobile phones has long been transforming language. Hashtags on Twitter are words or phrases that sum up, label, and filter various tweets into categories. This idea doesn’t seem crazy or bad, just efficient and effective. Hashtags have become a new niche way of communication and it reminds me of newspeak in "1984," whether bad or good.
In "1984," the point of newspeak was to strip creativity. Creativity, certainly, hasn’t been taken away in modern times, at least in the U.S. The fear of being creative, however, may have increased.
Another main connection between "1984" and modern surveillance is the instruments citizens used that were collected from by the government. In "1984," it was the telescreen. In the beginning of "1984," the main character, Winston, explains the telescreen:
“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound...would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the 'Thought Police' plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
The telescreen in "1984" was a single device and could be a generic term used to describe all modern devices with a screen. Snowden, in the documentary "Citizenfour," describes that all modern devices possibly are hear-through, just like the telescreen in "1984." Anything with a chip-making it a computer-is vulnerable. Society currently uses a variety of devices: landline phone, smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop.
A major difference between "1984" and modern times is that they are connected to us pretty much at all times. In "1984," it was the secret police who overheard and enforced, spied and arrested citizens. In modern day, the government can be sticking to you in your pocket. These devices rarely turn off, even while we sleep.
In "1984," Winston is extremely aware of his surroundings and the possibility of government spying. In modern times, I see nobody seriously acknowledging the possibility or presence of government spying, unless they are joking. If it is brought up, accusations of paranoia are sure to follow. The trouble is that much of modern communication is numerous, addicting, and seemingly invisible. It’s there when we want it at nearly anytime.
"1984" is becoming an increasingly important masterpiece to read, study, and learn. The extreme totalitarian principles it describes has become “Orwellian.” That itself is perhaps reason enough to read the book, and then read again a year or two later to really pick up the darkness and terror. Orwell’s imagination is shuddering, but deserved for a reader wanting a clear cut way of understanding. It teaches you what society shouldn’t be.
Comparing, contrasting, and drawing connections between old novel predictions and modern day whistle-blowing is fascinating and fun, but mostly alarming and scary. The modern mass surveillance machine has been hiding in secret under the law and only recently the truth of our reality has gotten out, and it has proven to be much worse than predictions and warning of fiction in many ways.
Jack Haren is a journalism student with a political science minor. His free time is spent snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, designing, listening, experimenting and living minimally. In the future he wishes to freelance and travel the world.