“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
In the dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ written by George Orwell, the concept of total surveillance and total propaganda have been essentially linked to represent the abuse of government power especially in relation to civil liberties and rights. Our modern day has been nicknamed an “Age of Propaganda” and a “Surveillance Society”. In this paper I examine the technological situation within the novel, relating ways in which the “Big brother” was watching people in Oceania during 1984 to how state and local law enforcement agencies (eg. National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security) intrude upon the privacy of innocent inhabitants in today’s society and the potential for further surveillance parallel with advancements in technology.
The people of Oceania are under a constant level of surveillance, their lives being studied inside and out to conclude whether they are fit to live in the party’s “supreme” society. They are being controlled and analyzed amongst every aspect of their lives. We see the use of many surveillance methods, the main source of superintendence used by the government are the telescreens (a tool used to detect instances of rebellion within its citizens, consisting of a microphone and CCTV cameras). We hear of such methods at the start of the novel where Winston must keep his back turned to the screen in his private premises. Even then the “Fear runs so deep in Winston that he fancies that by turning his back on a telescreen, his rebellious spirit may be sniffed out”. In my opinion, from the information provided by George Orwell, there was no hiding from the telescreens. There is no turning off the telescreens, this clarifies that they were designed for one purpose, to monitor every movement and conversation nondependent of the time of day or the location of the party member… don’t break, or even come close to disobeying the government’s ruling. It is most definitely an effective method to deter crime as people know that with these telescreens in place there is an extremely minimal chance of getting away with it. “Big brother is watching you.”
If you were to describe the world in which George Orwell’s novel nineteen eighty-four was set, most people would think of microphones and security cameras known as telescreens, but there is more to it than that. We see a dictation system used by Winston called a “speakwrite”, a device which records what is said aloud before transferring it onto a written document. Winston works within the Ministry of Truth, where he revises the party’s past orders and records to match the new plans and developments. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” We see this form of deception within Oceania, an example is the party rewriting a promise that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration. But in actual fact, (Winston being aware as he revised the promise) the chocolate ration was to be reduced by 10g. All that was required by Winston was to substitute the original promise with a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time soon. By large, the people believe it, as “Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
The technology which is available within George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four (considering it was written in 1944, forecasting what life in 1984 would be like) was very advanced, enough so to allow a society to be under complete party control with mass surveillance of the public. We can be certain that the internet was not present at that time. In the book, Winston is only able to make changes to government documents when it is hand-posted to his desk through tubes. Imagine the potential of mass information and document rewriting in today’s “Age of surveillance” with the power of the internet. Documents could be passed through this editing system at an inconceivable rate as encrypted files, preventing any of us as the public to notice or intervene in any way. With the internet constantly being improved and with net neutrality (“the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites”) being on the brink of becoming a thing of the past, who could predict what the future holds in regards to propaganda. If net Neutrality disappears, content providers will be paying larger tolls. If Netflix or Facebook are using too much of the providers’ bandwidth, make em pay. But do you really think these online servers have the means to pay these immense network fees? Of course not, so the cost is passed on to us consumers. Companies will dominate the internet, feeding you what they believe you want to see before charging you for it. Could it be possible to go as far as rewriting the whole of history and even design and direct a future society?
From my point of view, it seems that some technology is heading down the path seen in the world of Nineteen eighty-four. We have utilised technology to communicate with someone via live video, software to reproduce spoken audio into a written document (eliminating the time taken to manually type), we have extremely powerful so-called “Smart Tv’s” and we can’t take a trip down the street without seeing cameras on every corner monitoring society for crime. Often these forms of technologies are monitored, run and funded by the government. In the novel, there is this seemingly endless war taking place globally, with no fixed enemy. For the majority of the book, Oceania is at war with Eastasia yet Winston clearly remembers a time when Eurasia was the opposition. This change in enemy goes unnoticed by the public as the party has accessed and rewritten the ‘official’ history books, no one has the right to contradict this change otherwise consequences will be issued. There is no major difference between the two enemies, even the names could easily be mixed up without raising questions. Oceania has taken war as a method to keep its citizens in a constant state of fear, making any opinions on the matter hard to express and in most cases punishable “It’s always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway”. By keeping the people in this state, the party is able to distribute an unequal value of wealth. This keeps Oceania under state control. In our modern society, we are faced with a “war on terror” with no end date in mind and no singular defined enemy, the enemy is said to be anywhere and anything. This creates tension and fear within society as a whole, potentially a tactic used by the government to distract the public from their real intentions and plans, aided and abetted by their press allies with the use of media manipulation.
So what’s ahead for our society of surveillance, who can predict what our future holds with potential for government technology to be capable of the things seen in George Orwell’s dystopian novel. What’s to come from an already unmanageable lack of privacy? Is a future in store in which we live in a society where not only can our physical actions are monitored, but everybody’s thoughts are listened to and watched without our knowledge of it even taking place. We have already created technology basically powerful enough to think and act for itself although not in the same fashion us humans can. Human labor is heading to be a thing of the past, jobs already have and will continue to be lost to automation. Security could become strictly microphone and camera run. Not only is technology becoming more powerful but is also becoming smaller and unnoticeable, if you think your privacy is already breached, this is only the start. “Big brother is watching you”.