George Orwell’s relevance for us—part II

Right in the middle of your biologically needed pause of sleep, in the intimacy of your bedroom, some savvy operators are scurrying into all your digital devices—especially the infamous little screens—to carry on their dubious task: data mining. They are actively spying on all your lifestyle, buying and entertainment choices to gather critical information that they will sell to vendors for targeted advertisement. And what is worse, it is facilitated by the trust you put on some companies to handle your personal information for an e-mail address, shop, contact other people, etc.

In his novel 1984, George Orwell narrated the story of Winston Smith, a wretched middle-age bureaucrat from the imaginary nation of Oceania where its governance is assured by the constant surveillance of all its citizenry at all times, everywhere. In order to achieve this logistics nightmare, the authorities count on a technological marvel: the telescreen. It is a device where citizens get their news and entertainment but that also actively spies on them , sending their private information back to the authorities. We have to remember that Orwell wrote his novel in the late 40s, when the television was just an experimental device used in exclusive circles of USA, Great Britain, and France.

Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth where all the previous day’s news is being daily re-written to conform to the authorities’ political discourse. The actual facts are mendaciously manipulated to design a lot of fake news for the gullible; the bureaucrats use newspeak to conceal the true facts from the common citizenry and create “alternate realities” for the social, political and economic developments of their repressive State.  There is a constant disinformation campaign that leaves the citizenry fully confused; Winston Smith knows that his nation has been in constant war with Eurasia but he has doubts if the nation of Eastasia, a former foe, is now really his nation’s ally. The police finally arrest Smith and torture him to get a confession of a non-existent crime.

In a 1984 article, Mark Crispin Miller argued that the famous slogan “Big Brother is watching You” had been really turned into “Big Brother is you, watching television.” Contrary to the role of TV in 1984—where it abets a total conformity with the ruling party—Miller argued that television in our modern societies is used to promote an unrestrained consumerism through aggressive advertising and focus on celebrities. At the same time, he argued, it transmits a message of “material success” to the larger masses, duping them into believing only hard work and civic virtues matter. The viewers derive their “satisfaction” by measuring themselves against what they see on TV, such as dress, relationships, and conduct—the standard of habitual self-scrutiny. Aware that any “faux paus” will not pass unnoticed by the authorities, prods the viewers to take a very passive attitude while watching their telescreens.

Miller stated that the same paranoid obsession about not conforming to “the official story” in Orwell’s novel has mutated into our present-day infatuation with the social messages being peddled in our “little screens” (Not even Orwell could imagine this) Joshua Meyrowitz showed that the majority of the network programming in the USA is based on the premise that people like to engage in a scandalous voyeurism; it is a rational explanation why many millions of people spend hours watching Reality TV. Meyrovitz argued that television has totally changed the very nature of our social interaction by pushing some hitherto private behavior out of the backstage into the very center of the stage, which exposes our intimate truths to tough public scrutiny. The video surveillance of strangers was “commoditized” by commercial television to render that snooping “acceptable” for the whole family to gawk at it, guilt-free.

There were multiple Social Psychology experiments during and after World War II—conducted by the Allied and the Axis nations as well—to study crowd control. The “internalization” of TV images that makes us copy attitudes and acts alien to our feelings/thoughts might be the ultimate success of those intent on controlling us.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.