And we are all Winston Smith.
Those, of course (or maybe not of course if you have not read the book), are aspects of one of the great novels of all time – 1984. Published in 1948 (hence where the title comes from) and written by George Orwell.
I have read it a couple of times – the first being in High School. The second after college – which I appreciated more than the first read. Not sure if it was because I was older – or because it was my choice and not part of a course curriculum. I was fascinated by the hyped idea of predictions. I was sadly disappointed when there were no outright predictions during the first read. Again, it wasn’t until the second read that I saw the predictions for what they were – amazingly insightful narratives put forth by Mr. Orwell.
I think to a lot of people the power aspect was Room 101, Big Brother and the spin used in selecting words for description – Ministry of Love (read torture), DoubleSpeak, etc. Yes, those three main aspects were controlling and all powerful – in an omnipotent kind of way.
In looking back on the novel and seeing where we are (30 years past the time the novel took place) 66 years after it was first published I see some other more disturbing predictions. Here are a couple:
The premise in the book to ‘erase’ someone from history. No evidence, no existence. Orwell based this aspect on a Stalin practice – where photos were re-touched to remove people that had fallen out of favour (read killed). For the longest time this was in the hands of experts. People that could do this with skill. Not today – anybody with PhotoShop or any online Raster-based image-editing software can have access to a massive erase button. And it’s not limited to still images. Video is vast becoming the next realm of adding and deleting for content.
Winston Smith’s neighbour (Parsons) was turned into the authorities for having thoughts against the state (while he was sleeping no less) – by his own daughter. He admits to Winston that he is relieved to have been caught and his thoughts corrected. We don’t need people we know to do this anymore. It can, and is anyone. We have smartphones and CCTV feeds that allow any of us to collect data (ideas and photos) and distribute them without any inkling of understanding to the situation they’re reporting. Some make their way to group-judgement websites. Now, I’m not defending or condemning these site – these are just examples.
We are all in the same boat – we are all Big Brother by judging and being a voyeur (and recorder) to the lives and apparent missteps of others (guilty-pleasure confession – I love the sites listed). And we are a text or photo away from being Winston Smith – unaware of that telescreen behind the painting.
I think it’s time to read 1984 again.
What’s your biggest social media (big brother) fear?