George Orwell’s 1984 seems to be a prophetic literary masterpiece. Ever since it was published, this novel has raised concerns among Americans and other advanced nations that they live in Orwellian societies (Daniels par. 1). This concern has been based on the evident accuracy of once predicted by Orwell consequences of rapid technological advancements including living in a surveillance society, suppression of freedom and all true information, and what the writer called “reality control” (Orwell 35). THESIS STATEMENT: Although it may not be evident yet, but our society today has already got very close to the world of Big Brother due to abundance of surveillance technologies and extensive control over ordinary U.S. citizens.
Let us first discuss the extent of surveillance and a variety surveillance technologies used by the totalitarian Big Brother to spy on every citizen of Oceania. “Big Brother is watching you” is the ruling Party slogan. While on the one hand it summarizes the plight of Oceania’s citizens, it, on the other hand, shows the extent of surveillance by Big Brother. Which technologies are in use to watch everyone in Oceania? These are hidden microphones (they are typically hidden in trees or any other places across the country and allow tracing back the voices) and telescreens (present almost everywhere including workplaces, homes, and public premises, they are the key source of collecting information about the citizens). I the text, the use of these surveillance technologies is mentioned as follows: “In a place like this, the danger that there would be a hidden microphone was very small, and even if there was a microphone it would only pick up sounds” (about microphones) (Orwell 141) as well as “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously.
Any sound Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard” (Orwell 4). These quotes have been used to show how microphones and telescreens have been employed in a highly intrusive way by Big Brother. Apart from this, Orwell hints at the fact that micro-technologies are also used to track the citizens’ actions and words even through the smallest objects of the surrounding world, to illustrate, “Even from the coin the eyes pursued you. On coins, on stamps, on the covers of books, on banners, on posters and on the wrapping of a cigarette packet – everywhere. Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you” (Orwell 29). He also describes how the Thought Police “plugged in on any individual wire,” which means that all citizens were spied on as they were talking over the phone (Orwell 5). Now let us compare the use of these surveillance technologies by Big Brother with the U.S. government spying on its citizens.
Today’s U.S. Big Brother makes use of the cameras and microphones. This, above all, happens through numerous highway cameras and cameras installed in almost any building. However, this is not the only way “telescreens” invade our life. Almost all laptops, tablets, and smartphones have cameras in them. Of course, we, as naïve citizens believe that these cameras only serve to our advantage when we turn them on. However, the objective reality may be far from what we expect it to be. Same about built-in microphones in any of our devices used to communicate with other people. The information disclosed by Edward Snowden, the most famous American whistleblower to date, evidences that the U.S. government spying on its citizens has reached an unprecedented level and affects not just those who are under the suspicion of being terrorists but virtually anyone. According to the leaks by Snowden, “telecom carriers have been secretly giving the National Security Agency information about Americans’ phone calls” (Granick & Sprigman). What is worse, people themselves help the government watch over them by using Facebook, Google, and various applications which gather all sorts of their private data and easily determine their location through satellites and GPS.
Overall, this essay has shown how close the U.S. government surveillance policy has been to what is described in Orwell’s work. Modern surveillance technologies are applied secretly and do not exert the same psychological pressure as those in 1984, but they have surpassed those used by Big Brother. So, if a dictator comes to power in the States, his totalitarian government will be even more cruel and intrusive than the one in Oceania.
- Daniels, J. “Parallels between the Present-Day American Establishment and Orwell’s 1984.”
2014. Web. December 10, 2014.
- Granick, J. and Spigman, J. “The Criminal NSA.” The New York Times. June 27, 2013. Web.
December 10, 2014.
- Orwell, George. 1984. New York; Signet Classics, 1950. Print.