The dystopia imagined by George Orwell in his book 1984 is the most recurrent example when we want to explain what a dictatorial society we live in right now.
The novel, which was not meant to be a manual for current governments and technology companies, but that has become just that, describes a State that is governed by Big Brother through a series of mechanisms and devices that, far from being something of science fiction, coexist with us today.
How does Orwell’s novel resemble anything like what we experience today? In one sentence, you are being scrutinized every second of your life, often with your own consent.
The ever-present microphones in ‘1984′
Even in the rural areas of the outskirts, where it is assumed that the control of Big Brother does not take effect, there is also the occasional microphone to control the citizens.
All the urban corners of 1984 are full of cameras and microphones.
The amount of information collected is such that these receivers have a voice recognition system to facilitate the identification of dissidents and dissolvers.
What is the current equivalent of Orwell’s novel?
In 1984 the entity in charge of surveillance by voice recordings was the State. Nowadays, these recordings are made by private companies.
Google, for example, has been spying on users of its search engine, using the computer’s microphone to do so.
From what you see, it is not enough to put a piece of paper in the computer’s camera; you also have to cover the microphone with a cork.
The ‘voice-controlled speech’ of ‘1984’
In the future imagined by George Orwell people just write.
“The pen was an archaic instrument, which was rarely even used to sign”, explains the writer in the novel, which describes Winston Smith, the main character, as a man who “was not used to writing by hand” because, “apart from only having to write very brief notes, the normal thing was to dictate everything instead of writing”.
This device, present in offices and homes, recorded the human voice and converted it into text or archived it.
What is the equivalent to the voice-controlled speech?
The speechwriter looks like a remote relative of WhatsApp voicemails, although a bit bulkier because the device could not be carried in a pocket like a cell phone.
In any case, since the developers incorporated those voice messages to the application, what is a fact is that there are many who have already forgotten to write. Apple’s Siri is another example of it.
– The two minutes of hatred in ‘1984’
Big Brother and his oppressive structure organized daily what they call “The two minutes of hate”.
During that time, the telescreens broadcast information about enemies of the system to which party members must express their anger.
For many, these two minutes were too little for a verbal lynching exercise that was conducted once a year, so the State began to celebrate “The week of hate”.
What is the current equivalent of the two minutes of hatred?
“The two minutes of hate” of 1984 are very similar to social networks, especially Twitter, where there is limited space available to megaphone one’s thoughts.
Through their screens and mobile devices, users throw gall against the enemies of the State, against their neighbors, against that artist they detest, against that forward who failed a goal during the match the previous night.
The difference with 1984 is that on Twitter it can be done anonymously and voluntarily. Hate is used not as an obligation, but as a vocation.
– The ‘1984’ screens
Placed inside the homes or public premises, the screens transmit institutional messages and collect information about the environment.
As explained in the book, “I was able to pick up any sound that Winston made over a very low whisper, indeed, while I was in the field of vision dominated by the metal plate they could see and hear him”.
What is the current equivalent of the telescreen?
The TV screen is the closest thing to Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Nest’s Hub Max, Facebook and even those smart TVs connected to the Internet that, without the users’ knowledge, record their every word and movement at home.
Devices vary among that allow you to buy music, shop online, turn off the lights of the room from your office, or to record audio while you sing in the shower and a video when you leave it.
– Citizens’ mail is controlled
What is the controlled mail of ‘1984’?
In Orwell’s novel, Big Brother controls all citizens’ communications, including those made by mail. Because of this, and because of the existence of the speech recognition system, the mail is surveilled as soon as letters are written.
This is how the book describes it: “For those messages that need to be sent from time to time, the State arranged postcards with a long list of phrases so that the sender would cross out those that were not adequate to what he wanted to communicate.” In doing so, the State knew which words were being used and how often.
What is the current equivalent of controlled mail?
You guessed right: Gmail. It gives the user the option to respond to emails with a series of words or phrases that refer to the content of the message that was received.
Thanks to artificial intelligence and algorithms, the options suggested by the computer fit perfectly into the context of the conversation.
In other words, there is an algorithm that, like Big Brother, is reading your mail. Let’s hope it is discreet and does not tell anyone, but I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting.
– The canned music of ‘1984’
“El Castaño’s Café was almost empty. An oblique ray of sunlight streamed yellow through the window and fell on the dusty tables. They were lonely 15 hours. The televisions broadcast tinned music,” George Orwell wrote at the beginning of Chapter VI of ‘1984’.
When the book was published, in 1949, the usual thing was that in public venues the music was run by a small orchestra or a group of musicians, so the fact that music emerged from an electronic device was pure science fiction.
What is the current equivalent of canned music?
Nowadays, the strange thing is to have a group performing live music in a locale.
The optimization of costs and the municipal ordinances have meant that most public places use canned or recorded music.
That music that originally had a physical place, whether it was a tape, a vinyl record or a CD, is currently playing through the Internet with platforms such as Spotify or with devices connected to Wi-Fi networks.
This does seem science fiction, but Orwell did not even think about it. As for the concerts, there are multi-stage DJs like David Guetta performing with the music already recorded on a pen drive.
– The Ministry of Truth in ‘1984’
The motto of the society described in 1984 is: “War is peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is strength”. Consequently, the propaganda ministry is called the Ministry of Truth.
Official statements come from this institution and it is also there where historical facts are changed if, for whatever reason, it is not advisable to narrate them as they really happened.
What is the current equivalent of the Ministry of Truth?
Recently and before the avalanche of fake news in mainstream media and social networks, there are several political leaders who have raised the creation of a group that, from the Administration, would be responsible for determining what news is true and what is false.
In the United States, Barack Obama’s administration was the first to publicly install such an office, but efforts like that have been going on for decades as lies are fed to news media by intelligence agencies.
While the attempt seems praiseworthy, the State is responsible for determining what is or is not true.
The Ministry of Truth, and its ability to change the events that occurred in the past, also recalls the right to be forgotten by Google or even companies that are dedicated to pressure media and associations to remove data or facts related to clients.
– The Neo-language of ‘1984’
Among the methods that the authoritarian state of 1984 uses to subdue its citizens is language.
Periodically, dictionaries that reduce the number of words are published because the lexical variety complicates communication instead of enriching it.
The importance of Neo-language in the universe imagined by Orwell is such that, at the end of the book, the British writer included an appendix dedicated to explaining the characteristics of this new form of communication that, according to the authorities, should be fully implemented in 2050.
For this, classic books by authors such as Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton or Swift were also being translated into neo-language because, although “history had already been rewritten many times, fragments of literature from the past still survived here, imperfectly censored.
In the future, these fragments, even if they survived, would be unintelligible and untranslatable.
What is the current equivalent of the Neo-language?
The popularization of emoticons and emojis in everyday communication has made many internet gurus defend that emojis could be the language of the future because they are easy to use and understandable by anyone, regardless of the language they speak.
Leaving aside that that is not entirely true, because there are cultural differences that cause the same emoji to be interpreted differently according to cultures, there are already people who have embarked on the translation of classics from literature to emoji and they are even selecting English-emoji, emoji-English translators for their companies.
In this section of 1984, we can also include the politically correct, sanitized language now being mandated on society by States everywhere.
– The soap opera typewriter
What is this machine in ‘1984’?
Julia, the protagonist of 1984, works in the Fiction Department managing typewriter novels.
This invention starts from very simple story structures that are enriched with facts, characters, and details to create a novel that is printed and made available to readers.
The quality of the product is not good, but it serves the purpose of Big Brother.
In fact, this same method is also used to create pornographic narratives intended to entertain offspring, as the lowest class of society imagined by Orwell is called.
What is the current equivalent of the Soap Opera Machine?
Thanks to artificial intelligence, news has been written using algorithms that, according to some guidelines, interpret the different data and write down news reports.
It is not unreasonable to think that, in the not too distant future, this artificial intelligence can create more extensive and complex narratives, or that it is already doing so.
In fact, it would not be to rule out that authors of abundant production already have a novelty typewriter and they have not told anyone.
Although ‘1984’ was not meant to be a manual for current governments and technology companies, it has become just that. We are living in the pages of George Orwell’s 1949 novel.