George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eight Four published in 1949 shaped many people’s world view for the next four decades. The idea of an autocratic government watching its citizens: tracking every movement, listening to every word and controlling thoughts was a great fear to untold millions during the ebb flow that was the cold war. But, as the race that started in White Sands, New Mexico wound down, so did the great fear that had settled in the social conscience for over forty years. As time progresses however, it seems as though his foresight may come to pass from an unexpected source; ourselves.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics firmly entrenched in isolationism and Nazi fearfulness was still fresh in everyone’s minds when 1984 was released. The book was heavily influenced by Orwell’s contempt for the Stalin’s socialistic ways and concern that England would become a socialistic society thru general elections. Reports of prison camps, assassinations and espionage perpetuated beliefs that a totalitarian government manipulated the USSR like a marionette. Stalinist dictatorships following world war two were viewed by the west as expansion of the Soviet Union’s political and military influence continued to reinforce Orwell’s vision.
By the late eighties however, with the fall of the Soviet regime, Orwell’s novel started to seem more like a fantastically written thriller than it did a prophetic view of world. The citizens of the west began to feel safer in a world where the major communistic stronghold had fallen and fears the Thought Police (KGB) were watching us from next door evaporated. As the fears of Big Brother faded into fiction, our concern for each movement and every thought being recorded receded to the fringe few who stockpiled their doomsday cache in the woods.
However, when the generation who didn’t fear the Ministry of Truth was old enough to join the digital age, the end of privacy did come. But, it came willingly; not by Big Brother. Orwell’s clandestine predication of the forceful disintegration of personal space by telescreens and helicopters hovering in the sky like bluebottles never came to fruition. We just handed over our privacy without resistance and with little apprehension.
Our moves are not watched by Big Brother who watches us; it’s brother, sister, daughter, son and (potentially) every other soul on earth who are monitoring our thoughts. It’s Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook that watch our watch where we go and record where you’ve been. Just as memories of the Ingso Party and Big Brother’s rise to power faded in the past from a mist of augmented reality, a true understanding of how it started with a post, and then a tag and then a timeline; of how a simple gesture for companionship from an old friend turned into databases of pictures, tweets, tags and posts will never be realized by the general public. Now, an accidental check box on Spotify publicizes where we have been without us even knowing it.
Winston knew to keep his back to the purveyor but we Tweet and post without fear of reprisal out of ignorance for repercussions. We freely divulge everywhere we go to our 730 closest friends by checking in on Facebook or Foursquare; fearlessly stare into the camera and share compromising pixels that are forever digitally immortalized.
Each new privacy setting change blurs our ability to understand how our digital history is controlled and as the social networks become more integrated, the sharing of our information becomes impossible to follow.
Be careful; it’s 1984 all over again.
This time, however, we’re to blame.