George Orwell wrote his novel 1984 as a warning about the future of the world. It seemed at the time to be wild ideas and predictions made in his book impossible and farfetched. For example, a few subjects covered by Orwell included surveillance, a never-ending war and how fake news or the alteration of facts controlled public opinion. One thing each subject has in common is the use of technology. Although surveillance technology is praised as an effective tool for law enforcement, the reality is it provides a tool for invasion of privacy and government control.
According to the book, Surveillance Studies: An Overview, by David Lyon, we use surveillance to supervise children, monitor other road users, and safeguard our property. Social media allow us to keep track of others, as well as on ourselves. This is the culture of surveillance and the type of surveillance we appreciate. In 1984, the telescreen was the government’s form of surveillance. These telescreens were able to detect any change in facial expression of a person, could hear breathing and even hear the heartbeat of a person. Orwell mentioned that all telescreens had the ability to look into every corner of the room where they were installed. The telescreens were always turned on and the monitored citizen of Oceania did not have the option to switch off the screen. Another disturbing feature was the telescreens were fitted with cameras behind the screen that could zoom in on any face and see change in expressions. The telescreen also had very sensitive omni-microphones to pick sounds of all kinds. An example of how big brother used the telescreen was when the main character, Winston, performed his exercises, a voice from the telescreen criticizes his lazy effort. Another example was when Winston was arrested, a voice from the telescreen tells him what’s coming.
A second form of surveillance and control is the perpetual war. In the book, a global war seems to be going on all the time. Winston figured out the enemy kept changing. Orwell implied the endless war helped keep the ruling government in power. War also kept the citizens of Oceania citizens in a state of fear and the people willing to give up freedom in exchange for security. Victories were announced by the Party to encourage the people of Oceania their sacrifice was having a positive effect on the war. Today, the endless war is the war on terrorism. This type of war on terrorism is never-ending. Adding cyber security to the war on terrorism hits the U.S. population in the center of the fear zone and guarantees this will be our endless war. It was first declared by then president George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. President Bush announced the War on Terror on Sept. 20, 2001, in a speech to Congress. ‘Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida,’ he said, ‘but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.’ () The War on Terror continues to be very active, with no end in sight.
Another method of surveillance and control is fake news. The definition of fake news is that it is a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media. Digital news has brought back and increased the usage of fake news, or yellow journalism. In 1984, the Ministry of Truth was a propaganda machine for history, art news and education. As with the other three ministries in the novel, Ministry of Truth meant the opposite. The main purpose was to lie or publish the information the government wanted the citizens to know. The Ministry of Truth flooded the citizens of Oceania with the information the government wanted them to believe. The Ministry of Truth reflected the government’s belief that power is the only truth and that those with the power can make the ‘truth’ into whatever they choose.
It is argued if you don’t have anything to hide you have nothing to be worried about. However, when the government can monitor conversations through your phone, purchases, websites visited, medical records and your location at any time, it means there is no way the government doesn’t have stored information on you. This should be concerning since the regulation on collecting, storing and using this information is a grey area.
The book 1984 was originally published in 1949. The author, George Orwell, described the life of main character, Winston Smith living under surveillance, endless wars and fake news. Fast forward to today. We use devices everyday today that provide that very same surveillance. Cell phones and the internet track our activities to mark our location or provide companies information to place ads on the pages we are viewing. The internet provides the opportunity to spread fake news and the war on terrorism is the current day endless war. The advances in surveillance software and the internet made life easier and safer for everyone, but at the price of privacy. It is up to the citizens to decide how much of this technology is too much.
- Orwell, George. 1984. New York, NY: Published by Signet Classic, 1977.
- Lyon, David. Surveillance Studies: An Overview
- George W. Bush White House Archives. ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People.’
- Amadeo, Kimberly. “Whose Spent More on War? Bush, Obama, or Trump?” The Balance, 22 Jan. 2020, www.thebalance.com/war-on-terror-facts-costs-timeline-3306300#citation-1.
- SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on 1984.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2007. Web. 27 Feb. 2020.
- Miller, Andrea. ABC News: More companies are using technology to monitor employees, sparking privacy concerns. March 10, 2018