Taking us back to 1984
WhatsApp recently announced an update of its terms of service and left some of its users unsettled, especially by the ultimatum they gave to either agree to the terms or no longer use the app.
It’s not just WhatsApp and Facebook though. Social media at large, or rather, the Internet, may have become things we can’t live without but it seems there is a heavy price to pay. It does feel like one is gambling with their privacy. With the aim to use personal information to cater to users better, there is also the risk of having one’s information landing in the wrong hands.
It also leaves some people wondering how much is known about them, are they being constantly being listened to, or being watched? How much control does one really have over their privacy?
I recently read Nineteen Eighty-Four and in the world that we live in that is filled with the above questions, the novel is a bit terrifying and it’s hard not to draw similarities to our world.
The story is set in the nation of Oceania where the Party is in rule and controls everyone and everything. Everyone is being watched, history is altered, and thoughts and language are also regulated. Everything is under a perceived ruler known only as Big Brother.
Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth where he alters historical records. As the story progresses he commits rebellious thoughts and acts – illegally purchasing a diary, getting into a relationship and renting a rendezvous, and other crimes against the laws of the Party. Eventually, he’s arrested and tortured.
This novel is loaded with the dangers of censorship and surveillance, and we may not be necessarily watched by Big Brother, or being monitored by the Thought Police, but one can’t help but draw some parallels. One of the themes that stand out in the novel is psychological manipulation, done through technology. Thankfully, we do not live in a complete totalitarian regime as in the novel (well…most parts of the world) but without sounding paranoid, there are traces of Orwell’s work in the world we live in.
There is so much information overload on the Internet that you have to take great care of what you consume, especially what information your children are exposed to. There are dangers of information that can manipulate what we believe about the world. In Orwell’s novel, people’s minds are flooded with propaganda and it’s not too far-fetched to think of how easy it is these days to pick up on certain information and run with it without questioning. We’ve seen enough fake news, okay?
It’s also not difficult to imagine Big Brother in our world. The character in the novel never really appears but he is everywhere, watching and listening. There is this vagueness about who actually rules Oceania, the actual human powers. In our world, we do know the names of leaders, of the super-wealthy, and the parties who own companies such as the ones who create these apps. Do we know exactly where our data goes and what it’s actually being used for? Are we aware of the people who pose as threats to our personal details and what the actual risks of giving up so much information to unknown parties are? Sadly, we don’t.
However, it’s not all bleak and Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t a prediction of the present. It is, however, a novel worth reading and paying heed to its relevance to the society we currently live in.
It’s also easy to read, with straightforward language and style. The style mirrors the depressing mood of the story and evokes emotions of misery and gloom but for achieving the effect of reflecting the life of people like Winston.
We’re not in Ninety Eighty-Four but don’t forget to pay close attention to how you protect your privacy and what sensitive information you’re giving out.
If Ninety Eighty-Four is too heavy for you, try Animal Farm by the same author. Another masterpiece but lighter.