George Orwell’s iconic book 1984 is a tremendous yet frightening read. In the early days of television, one of my uncles told me that the TV was directly connected to someone who could see into our own house. I didn’t believe him but it was a fascinating concept. In the sixties, I watched The Thunderbirds. They had two-way televisual communications. The idea seemed outrageous. Then there was Burke’s Law. Burke was a millionaire self-styled trouble shooter; a bit like The Saint. But Burke had a phone in his Rolls Royce. It was cool. There he was in the back of his luxury limmo, puffing on a fine havana, talking on his white car phone. Fast-forward to today. Nowadays we actually expect to use our phone in a car. We can even set up a hands free facility with our car’s sound system. Almost every form of transport can offer a wifi connection. The miasma of cyberspace is all around us. It encircles our heads, passes through our walls and follows us wherever we go. Of course, it goes hand in hand with hacking and listening in. The control of cyberspace can bring true power. Does this make the futuristic concept of 1984 seem quaint? Does it even seem ridiculous that a camera can see into the living room of Winston Smith? (Just like the CCTV dotted on every corner or on every shop doorway in every town in the UK.)
But 1984 doesn’t just deal in technology. Here is an extract from Smith’s diary:
“April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. One very good one of a ship full of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused by shots of a great huge fat man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him, first you saw him wallowing along in the water like a porpoise, then you saw him through the helicopters gunsights, then he was full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as though the holes had let in the water, audience shouting with laughter when he sank.”
Hardly quaint is it? 1984 was first published in 1949. Just the very mention of “ship full of refugees” confirms the chilling nature of the book. It is certainly worth a read. In amongst the eloquent, almost vivacious prose of Orwell lies a deep sinister message of the power of the powers. I often used the opening paragraphs for my year six class as an example of the beautiful art of sentence construction and its selection of well-picked conjunctions. Naturally, there are many other examples of accurate prophecies lurking amongst the artistic output of previous generations. Cat Stevens’ words, “switch on summer from a slot machine” comes to mind every time I see a tanning salon. But it is the sheer menace of 1984 which gives it such power. They knew Winston Sith had a fear of rats, in the same way that Amazon and many others know all about our shopping preferences. Can you imagine being dragged into room 101 to be force fed fennel and radish salad with anchovy dressing because your online grocery shop has shown these to be items you have never purchased? Or worse still, that silly little survey you did on Facebook last week shows your aversion to the music of Cliff Richard. Can you imagine? “Tell us who you work for Mr McChrystal or we give you the full video of Power to all our Friends.” (If you’ve seen Britain’s 1973 Eurovision entry you will know what I mean.) Think of the human rights issues. So much is known about us. Look at your Marks and Spencer or John Lewis browsing history. Go on to any public information site and look at the specific adverts relating to such histories. There is a body of thought which concludes that if you have done nothing wrong then why worry? But why should we have to endure such predatory marketing? Why should our emails, texts and even our locations come under such scrutiny? Before getting too involved in the rights and wrongs of modern surveillance, I must remember the original point of writing this article. It’s big brother. (Or big sister.) My mind was drawn to the 1984 idea because I have recently had Lifeline installed in the flat. Now this is a helpful big brother. I wear a pendant which actually detects when I have a fall. It connects to a box in the room which speaks to me. If I’m in trouble, they will send some form of help. How cool is that? Hopefully, I will never need it but there have been two recent incidences when I have been on the floor for a very long time. Finally, I have discovered that one of my old year six pupils works as a call monitor. This brings me to the end of a rather rambling blog. My big brother is going to be very reassuring. In three days, it has been activated accidently twice. What did the person in the box say? Don’t worry, we don’t mind false alarms. I am smiling. Thank-you for reading.