1984 vs. the Blog: Orwell’s Big Blooper

July 24, 2006

Twenty-two years after the big year came and went, folks are still remarking how spot-on George Orwell was in 1984: you know, the all-seeing cameras, the data bases, the bad architecture… But there’s one big thing Orwell got wrong: in 1984 the government was able to rewrite history to suit its purposes, dictate the reportage of current events, even insist that 2+2=5. In short, the government had nearly total control of the truth. That was the essence of totalitarianism–by exercising total control over information, the government was able to exert total control over the population. What we wound up with, thankfully, is 180 degrees from Orwell’s vision.

No doubt, governments around the world still make desperate and clueless efforts to control the truth. Sometimes they even succeed, at least in the short-run. But since Orwelll wrote his book, it’s become almost impossible to exert Hilter- or Stalin-style control over a large population. What Orwell didn’t forsee is that the communication network he described in 1984 would work both ways: not only would it give Big Brother a window into our private lives, it would also give private citizens a chance to report on and share information on Big Brother’s doings. Exhibit A: the Bush Adminstration. For every clumsy effort it made to spin everything from the war in Iraq to, well, its Big Brother efforts to tap our phone conversations, there were a jillion citizen reporters waving their digital hands and saying, ‘Nuh-uh, that’s not what happened!’

Looking back, it almost seems like the totalitarian regimes in Germany and the Soviet Union were the fruit of a never-to-be-repeated phase in the evolution of communications technology. For a brief, horrific period, governments had total control over powerful tools—television and radio—that they could use to communicate with their citizens. The internet, by design, makes such centralized control impossible.

But does that make us safe from groups of super evil mean crazy people? It’s been widely observed that new technologies—from gunpowder to nuclear fusion—have historically been harnessed to serve malevolent ends. Why should communications technology be any different? While mass communication technology helped enable the rise of totalitarian regimes that laid down the law, the internet is pretty good at empowering destructive entitities that work outside the law—terrorists, for one. Just as the new technology has given us a billion little blogs and news sites and tv channels and video streams, it’s also giving us thousands of new, super organized hate-based groups to worry about.



3 Responses to “1984 vs. the Blog: Orwell’s Big Blooper”

  1. Manuel Says:

    I’ve just reread 1984 for the second time and I agree that Orwell was spot on a great number of the various themes throughout the book. The question that remained in my mind was whether or not we were in fact free. Have I or we accepted our place as proles/outer & inner party members to such an extent that the discussion itself has become academic. What evidence is there to suggest that our reality is better then the one described in the book. Is it because I or we are not tortured each day. I believe that everytime I talk with someone there is always a degree of mind control involved. With sex the involvement of the church is everywhere. Typically it’s most succesfull where it is unwittingly advocated by others than the church. The fact that I’m writing this could be percieved as a result of a freedom that I enjoy. However it could as easily be considered an outlet for another degree of control out which nothing will come of. I come from what I believe is a rich family. I know people who have less and who have more. This would therefore be rationalised to mean that the pyramid class structure still exists albeit much more fluid like water. In the end what does it matter if I believe this to be true or not? Doublethink exists and it doesn’t. I hate Orwells book and I love it. It would be easier to be happy than it is to be free. At least according to Orwells definition.

  2. Futz Says:

    The thing that Big Brother still has over the Bloggers is expediency, in more than one sense of the word. While the right is there for all to openly disagree in a public forum such as the one presented here, one definite thing the government surpasses the idividual in is true power. While skepticism can easily sway a reader from the statements made by either, Big Brother is easier to believe simply because he’s so damned big.
    To take things a step further toward conspiracy:
    The government; big business; those with money: these entities are still controlling communicative tools of which you speak. Television new networks are ran by the companies that own them; there is no such thing as a direct connection to the story. Everything is spun to suit the needs of the highest bidder. We exist in a world where there are multiple twenty-four hour television news networks. We are currently at war, if people are still referring to it as that, yet one of the biggest and most covered stories in the recent months was the death of a diet-pill spokesmodel.
    The point I make is that this ‘power’ you claim to be in the hands of the public is illusory. With tenacity one person can change the world; more often than not, this person is pure entertainment or distraction.
    I agree with your over all point; I merely disagree that this could be refered to as ‘Orwell’s Big Blooper’.
    The proles were too poor.
    The Outer party members were not given access.
    The Inner party members wouldn’t share.

    If you found something and never told anyone else about it, they cannot be blamed for not making use of it.

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