It is set in a dystopian London where it is ruled by a tyrannical styled government that is known as “The Party”. The story takes place after a calamitous nuclear war that devastated the planet. The Party creates a chilling (to some) living environment for its inhibitors in which it is virtually impossible to have any privacy and enforces its will through the use of various forms of technology. In every home, office, bar and other locations there is a device called a “telescreen”, a version of a flat screen television with a built in camera and microphone to observe occupants. Additionally, where the telescreen cannot reach to ‘spy’, hidden microphones are put in place. This world is one where every action and thought is scrutinized and examined for any anti-Party actions, thoughts or affinities and if you are suspected of such actions you can be arrested and “reeducated” at any time.
Although the book was written in 1949, it predicted a lot of what was to come in terms of technology and surveillance. I believe that are several similarities from what was written in the book to what we are seeing now. According to Richard H. Immererman and Petra Goedde in The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War, the chief developments that gave rise to the information and communications technology (ICT) revolution occurred during the cold war. These include the global spread of the electrical generation; the production of communications satellite; commercial solicitation of assimilated circuits, fiber optics and microprocessors; and the volatile growth of home/personal computers, the Internet and World Wide Web.
The rise of technology in our present era began funnily enough in 1984 when Steve Jobs launched a commercial that was based on a dystopian future of mankind and was meant to save the world from the ‘conformity’ of IBM’s endeavor to rule computer industry. The ad stated that “on January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” The computers arrived in October and signaled a new generation of computers making more revolutions in personal technology on one hand and catalyzed competition in this sector.
In terms of major similarities between 1984 and today’s world, I think the most talked about parallel is the constant surveillance devices that are used nowadays. In the novel, Orwell introduced telescreens and hidden microphones located inside people’s homes and workplaces. He detailed that the telescreens can monitor the change in people’s facial expressions, hear the breathing of a person and even their heartbeat. There are several international cases in which we can see the similarities between what was written in the book and what transpired. In 2006, ABC news reported that the FBI can listen to everything that is being said, even when the cellphone is turned off. Additionally, in 2004, the NSA had developed a technique that was christened “The Find’ by special operation officers. The method was used in Iraq and allowed the agency to trace cellphones even when they are turned off.
This predication of the author was a physical form of surveillance. However, with the introduction of the Internet, the possibility of searching for personal information passing through Internet Nodes preserved either by companies or even the government has increased vastly. The geographical reach of surveillance has increased and so are the capabilities of the governments. Furthermore, another example is that the companies that we work for have software in place to monitor our emails, citing administrative purpose as reasons. It is also beneficial to point out that there is now technology that is used by the FBI and other relevant authorities that recognize our facial features and use them for solving crimes.
Another similarity that stood out to me in the novel was Orwell’s Speakwrite. He explains that speakwrite is done with the use of a mic with a mouthpiece and whatever is said into the mic is transformed into text and written down. In today’s world there are several speech-to-text softwares and applications. Almost every phone, tablet, and PC’s is equipped with speech recognizing virtual assistance. For example, Windows has Cortana, Apple has Siri and Android has OK Google.
In the novel, the main protagonist Winston Smith described a scenario where he dialed “back numbers” on a telescreen and then called for “appropriate issue of Times”, the air-filled tube “slid out” the required document after a few minutes. Electronic document management systems in offices, libraries are extremely common in today’s world.
The author mentions in the book “Proles” who had some type of knowledge that a rocket was heading in their direction several seconds before it actually lands. In the United States, after the horrible 9/11 attacks, there were talks about Missile Detection System that will detect such an item in the country’s airspace and being able to destroy such object before the intended disaster.
The use of memory hole was mentioned in the novel, where it was used to alter or destroy incriminating documents, photographs, transcripts or other documents. History is packed with examples where books were burned in an attempt to erase history. However, with time and technology forging on ahead, the way of destroying documents have changed greatly. Nowadays offices such as my own use paper shredders to destroy documents that are no longer wanted or needed. In some serious cases, computer viruses are used to erase soft copy forms of documents almost permanently.
The world of 1984 is what everyone seemingly wants to avoid and it is the last place anyone would want to live. A life where the government and your peers know everything that you do, whether it is good or bad, there is no confidentiality of information. Unfortunately, I believe that this is the world that we are skidding into, and the most horrible part is: we are doing it freely, albeit without the torture and oppressive government.
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