In 1949 George Orwell painted a bleak view of a tyrannical, dystopian society with his masterpiece, ‘1984’. Thanks to his warning against totalitarian authority we have moved away from a future of all encompassing government surveillance and newspeak. But maybe we have let ourselves in for something worse …
When ‘1984’ was first published Soviet Union had just tested their first atomic bomb. America and indeed entire world were gearing up against red devil; cold war was begun. Orwell portrayed future as it could be if Communism won day; a dark world of total scrutiny, every individual’s actions under spotlight, every waking moment. A society devoid of creativity or individualism, and kept that way by ruthless thought police. As it was ‘free world’ won war, and all were joyful and rejoiced. Now we have to deal with consequences of that victory, and flip side of coin that Orwell did not foresee.
America is land of free. Free from persecution, violence and war. Or not as spiralling crime figures and recent Iraq crisis show. But this is not what I wish to talk about. Today we live in a democracy, or so we are told. The government cannot retain any information on you without consent, or at least has to offer free access its records if you so desire. But Big Brother is no longer thing we need fear, rather it is little brothers and sisters who walk among us.
It is almost impossible these days to purchase a mobile phone without a built in camera. Surveillance equipment once realm of most expensive secret service is now freely available on open market. Phishing, keyloggers, Trojans, identity theft. Words once unknown that are now part of common parlance. Individuals can build ‘bots’ to harvest e-mail addresses from websites, while mis-termed ‘hackers’ can break into databases on web servers to take any information they find. There are surveillance cameras sprouting everywhere from schools to companies to government offices. Almost every movement or action a person makes can be tracked these days, be it by credit card trails or ‘web cams’.
To protect themselves several major companies have recently had to implement new rules. Where once only dedicated industrial espionage could have stolen plans for a new computer chip or products from out under noses of a security division, now disgruntled employees simply have to take snaps with their camera phone. So phones have to be banned. Where once it would have been impossible to check up on a suspect spouse, now wives and husbands can simply install software onto their marital partners computers to monitor their e-mail and other online activities. The age of personal scrutiny is here at last, but not as Orwell foresaw it.