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Our postmodern society has become dependent upon twenty-first century technology. This technology is developed to make our lives easier, more efficient, to encourage communication, and to enhance the quality of experience. Our society craves the latest technological fads and Internet crazes. We’ve become addicted to an entity that promises us a bigger, better, & brighter future. However, while technology appears to have made our lives easier in some respect, it has raised numerous issues that challenge the moral framework of every major corporation and government.
Orwell’s 1984 is a haunting vision of a future with no future. A future where technology controls every aspect of an individual’s life. Orwell introduces the concepts of The Ministry of Truth, The Thought Police, and BIG BROTHER. These omniscient entities continually monitor the movements, speech, and writings of every citizen.
Since Orwell’s book 1984 written in 1948, we have developed methods to produce more advanced and less costly computer technology. Value Added Networks continue to rise in popularity. Data warehousing (information availability) and data mining (information analysis) have become hot topics in today’s world. Personal data that has always been available, but not easily accessible, is now computerized and merged with larger databases. These databases are linked to form massive data repositories. This practice is not limited to the private sector; government databases such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and criminal records are accessible to those willing to pay for access. The ability to desegregate personal information and profile individuals is easier than ever.
George Orwell’s vision of the world is depicted primarily through the omni-present tele-screen. This piece of technology not only allowed BIG BROTHER to broadcast propaganda, but also monitored individual activities. Similar surveillance technology actually exists throughout the United Kingdom. Intelligence is gathered using inexpensive hardware cameras. Specialized software handles the storage, analysis, and correlation of facial images to a central database.
Modern examples of large central data banks are already under development. Microsoft’s .NET web initiative entails the compilation, storage, and distribution of an online customer’s personal information. Such a venture is only possible with the latest hardware running Microsoft software technology. This technology includes the use of XML code to withdraw selected information from a central bank of database servers.
The positive aspects of such an intelligence endeavor includes: Access to valuable information that might save your life; information such as allergic reactions to medication etc; the ability to transfer or withdraw bank funds from your mobile phone; the ability to account for controlled substances such as chemical & biohazard materials; and combat international terrorism and crime.
The often overlooked negative consequences of technology include: Criminal profiling; medical profiling by insurance companies; telephone & electronic mail privacy intrusion; tracking credit card & other personal spending patterns to target marketing and sales; tracking travel via passport, airline ticket sales, license plate scanning, & facial algorithmic surveillance.
Orwell describes an extreme in isolation and control. A place where government agencies use technology to propagate normal thought. Technology is used to unite millions; however, it has the capacity to isolate one part of the world from another. Winston Smith, a worker for The Ministry of Truth, not only falsifies history by writing people out, but also creates non-existent historical figures. In Orwell’s 1984, control is enforced/exercised by censoring information and even rewriting history.
A frog that is placed in a pot of cool water and slowly heated is said to never notice the danger until it’s time for soup.
In Orwell’s 1984, what seems, may not be. The logical might be illogical. What is right could be wrong. What was intended for good could become unjust. Most critics shot down Orwell’s ideas when the book was initially reviewed in 1948. However, with the advent of modern technology, I feel overwhelmed by the thought of personal information abuse. Abuse not only in a ubiquitous government, but extending to the private sector.
Ironically, concepts from Orwell’s 1984 are referenced in everything from modern day advertising, such as Apple Computers, to The Simpson’s Cartoon Halloween Special. Therefore it is evident that technology can be used to restrict basic freedom and civil rights. With the risk of losing important freedoms, we must fully understand the implications of new technology.