George Orwell made year 1984 famous with his book that is similarly titled, and I can’t help but draw a connection between his story and the generation that was born around the 80’s and after. Orwell imagined a society in the late 40’s that would actualize itself in the lives of a whole generation in the world of today.
It is no surprise that the sales of “Nineteen Eighty-four” went up by 7,000 percent on Amazon, when the reaches of the mass surveillance programs came to public light, but I have to wonder, have our attitudes already been re-educated to accept what Orwell called Big Brother is watching you?
We have a show titled Big Brother, a celebration of 24/7 surveillance on ordinary people living under one roof, not to mention the growing number of other reality shows that follow their subjects around. Social media has given a platform to non-celebrities to get their piece of the exposure pie, every now and then lifting one of us ordinary people to the pedestal of skyrocketing public interest in who we are and what we do. There is a craving for wanting to be seen and heard.
Having been born in 1984, I remember seeing a lot of events on TV. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, I was only five years old, and I wondered why people were hacking at a wall with sledgehammers and crying. Later, I understood the importance of what I had seen. Back then people had to physically climb over a wall, and eventually bring it down, to promote freedom of choice and not be patronized by their own government.
Even though I was in another country and very young to understand what was going on, the emotionally charged images on the screen affected me deeply, I have drawn from them in my own writing in You and Me and the Devil Makes Three:
“His eyes turned dark grey like the stone on the Berlin wall in 1989, the moment to pick up the sledgehammers had come about. Two worlds were about to collide and I could only stand aside like the East German government, watching people hack away at the wall.”
In my book I use the Berlin Wall to describe a moment in which my main character has to face the consequences of what she’s done, she can’t control the events anymore and like the day, when the gates of the Berlin wall stood open, she had to let the truth come to light, stand aside much like the East German government and let its people cross over.
In 1991 I recall watching Boris Yeltsin stand atop a tank in Moscow, giving a speech, again, too young to understand what was going on. Later the same year the giant of USSR was brought to its knees, an event that’s been described as a victory for freedom, democracy over totalitarianism.
Those same borders of the west and the east can be drawn onto a different map now, this time all digital. There are unseen walls and authorities governing information on the internet, eavesdropping on what’s being said and shared. Awareness of those invisible walls and systems in place is increasing, because there are people like Snowden and Assange, who take the sledgehammer and pound it to the wall so others can see it too.
The recent leaks on surveillance are not the last of their kind, I’m sure. I feel we are at a breaking point as a society, where change driven by the will of people doesn’t necessarily happen on the streets anymore as massive protests (of course it can do that, Arab Spring as a good recent example), but on an immaterial level that uses internet as one of its tools.
And it’s important to protect the integrity of that tool. For now it’s been relatively safe to state your opinion online and share information, but there are places, where it isn’t quite so, and where information is not readily available on certain topics.
Orwell told a tale of a totalitarian society almost 65 years ago and it has become quite the reality for my generation, and we contribute to it somewhat on daily basis for example by using social media, watching shows like Big Brother, we are becoming more desensitized to being watched and being followed. It’s almost as if our inner Winston Smiths are being awakened, where in the end, after all the struggle against the Big Brother, we end up professing our love to it.