Whether you are paranoid or in denial, you are being watched. Throughout the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, there is an underlying message that our 2018 society should be paying close attention too. In George Orwell’s popular novel Nineteen Eighty-four, it is evident that he is expressing a warning to readers about just how invasive surveillance and technology are becoming. It is clear that this message resonates now more than ever.
During the first few pages of Nineteen Eighty-four, the concept of Big Brother is introduced. He appears on posters throughout Oceania- the city where the main character, Winston, goes about his bleak daily life. Winston states during the first page that the poster “Is one of those images which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.” By expressing the poster as ‘contrived’ it is evident that the people of Oceania have little control over their emotions and actions. Contrived means something is deliberately created, rather than arising naturally. When an individual is contrived, their ability to express their own feelings is removed, therefore so is an element of their human instinct. Eyes are the most symbolic sensory organ of all. They hold a level of connection and intimacy while demanding attention. Winston feels as though he is unable to be expressive, as it is seen as a form of rebellion and he is aware that the posters are always watching him, flustering him with guilt and fear. The world of Nineteen Eighty-four is separated into three main class systems, the inner party, the outer party and the proles, Big Brother is top of the pyramid.
The idea of Big Brother is so predominant in Nineteen Eighty-four, that in July 2000, a reality TV show was given the title of Big Brother. This show consisted of a group of people living in a house that had in-depth surveillance. However, while in Nineteen Eighty-four Big Brother governs every aspect of the people’s lives, down to the raw emotions that the people are feeling. Whereas the TV show Big Brother is an opportunity for self-obsessed nobodies to moan about how the other contestants are being unkind to them. In the novel, if the people of airstrip one disobeyed Big Brother they were killed. Therefore the story itself was much darker than the TV show.
The people of Oceania live in a constant state of being monitored by the party (the governing body) through advanced and obtrusive technology. Instaled throughout the community, and in every home, were devices called Telescreens, the technology is so advanced that even the slightest glance could give Winston away this is shown through the quote- “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.” If a rebellion spirit is portrayed and picked up by the telescreen, the consequences are dire. This leads to people of Oceania, and more specifically Airstrip one (the city within Oceania) to live without personality, and with very little expression. There are, however, two groups of people who are not under constant monitoring. The proles and inner party members have the ‘privilege’ of overthrowing the monitoring system. The proles are not monitored. Winton sees the Proles as his only hope to seek the answers he needs, they will never revolt. Therefore, the party does not monitor them. The inner party members also have the ability to disable their telescreens. The inner party is the ruler of Oceania, making up 2%of the overall population, they are trusted and seen as royalty.
Now, in the year 2018, our privacy is an illusion, an illusion that allows us to live without being self-conscious and extremely superstitious. We have put our personal details into our devices through social media, online banking, emails and more. We trust that our ‘privacy settings’ and have faith that we are secure. I personally beg to differ.
Edward Snowden, a former central intelligence agency employee, went on to reveal NSA’s secrets through leaked documents. While working for the contractors, at some point Snowden began downloading secret documents related to U.S. intelligence activities and partnerships with foreign allies, including some that revealed the extent of data collection from U.S. telephone records and Internet activity.
Based upon the documents, these cyber spies were intent on their goal of “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.” No matter what his motives were, Snowden revealed to us the scale of government surveillance. He exposed the way that NSA can swoop up a vast amount of data through the cellphones and devices. They can listen in on your phone calls, follow you from location to location, and even listen to your face to face conversations through your phone microphone. We have Edward Snowden to thank for this revelation, the proof was in his pudding (known as the 1.7billion legal documents obtained for the NSA and other organisations alike)
“The world of 1984 is a perfect metaphor for today,” says futurist and digital culture analyst Mark Pesce, “All of this space that we thought was open to us and was free for us to express ourselves in, suddenly seems very closed,”. No matter how much duct tape you have put across your laptop’s webcam, if the government want to watch you, they shall watch. On June 11, 2015- According to IHS, there were 245 million professionally installed video surveillance cameras active and operational globally, let alone those not professionally instaled. This is a direct parallel to the quote “He thought of a man whom he had passed in the street a few weeks back: a quite ordinary-looking man, a Party member, aged thirty-five or forty, tallish and thin, carrying a briefcase. They were a few metres apart when the left side of the man’s face was suddenly contorted by a sort of spasm. It happened again just as they were passing one another: it was only a twitch, a quiver, rapid as the clicking of a camera shutter, but obviously habitual. He remembered thinking at the time: that poor devil is done for.” This reveals that even the most straight cut, normal looking of us can falter. Leaving us exposed and potentially targeted in our modern world.
Well-known organisation Amnesty has created a campaign titled #unfollowme, you most likely haven’t heard of it, and that is no coincidence. Amnesty believes that personal data collected is being used to target political opponents and minority groups. They created a petition against mass surveillance. As a society that respects freedom and as well as rules and laws, we must respect our privacy. We are entering an age of smart devices, everything from phones to fridges are becoming online. This leads the government to have access to everything we do. This allows governing bodies to target us in large-scale profile activities. Big Brother may not be watching us, but the government is.
I would like to touch on one conspiracy theory that is so evident it refuses to die. Its called “Facebook is listening to me.” It’s a bizarre experience that most of us have come across. You mention something in a phone call, or in a face to face conversation, only to see it appear on your Facebook feed. Facebook will continue to deny that they are listening to us, but they have admitted to tracking our google searches and formulating relevant ads to taunt us. And in 2018, an age of ‘freedom’ and ‘individuality’, it is compliant with all Laws for Facebook to monitor us like this. Facebook is becoming our modern day telescreen. “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, 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 watched everybody all the time. But at any rate, they could plug in your wire whenever the 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 term scrutinized means to be inspected closely, and thoroughly. Therefore if you’re being scrutinized, your privacy bubble is deflating. Social media mass surveillance is permitted by law, it is no secret that we are not as alone as we believe.
Next time you log on to Facebook, make eye contact with a security camera, or phone your mother, stay conscious of the fact that you never know who is tapping into your digital life. With our digital lives intertwining with our personal lives, we must stay alert. George Orwell has warned us of our new reality, the surveillance blanket is covering us.