George Orwell died on the 21st January 1950. He forecast a world where governments controlled people’s lives completely, with his most famous warning given in the form of the dystopian novel 1984. So can we look around today and claim he was right? Or, does it remain only theoretical speculation that makes for a good read?
Let’s see if there is any truth in Orwell’s predictions…
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Are we really expected to forfeit our own experiences of the world through our senses and believe what we are told? Well, if we consider what has happened in 2020, the answer is yes. When we first saw the impact of COVID abroad, we seemed to wish it away even when we knew it was inevitable it would reach us, and often ignored the reactions of other nations. In the UK we were slow to take up social distancing measures, wear face masks and halt travel. Instead of taking it seriously, we downplayed it all under a narrative of ‘it’s just the flu’. However, this was quickly replaced with one of terror and fear. The British Prime Minister had been shown on TV shaking hands with people; then he was calling for people to greet one another another way. When asked about his shaking of hands, he ignored it. He neither confirmed nor denied it. By ignoring the question, he was silencing what we had all witnessed. It might seem like a trivial point, but surely it is a microcosm for the idea of rejecting the ‘evidence of your eyes and ears’, and merely accepting what we are told.
It’s not only through the spyglass of the pandemic that we have seen Orwellian predictions come to life. What about cancel culture? Here, people pull up outdated information of others’ old thoughts, jokes and comments, and demand that they be “cancelled”. Is this an extension of Orwell’s thought police? Surely those responsible for historic thoughts, jokes and comments should only be made to apologise if their attitude has not now changed? Fear of cancel culture has led even the most innocuous talents to withdraw their own work in case of retribution. Perhaps one of the most notable examples is comedian Nigel Ng’s ‘Uncle Roger’ sketch involving Mike Chen. Born in China, but raised in America, Chen speaks out against the Chinese government. Due to fear of ‘cancel culture’, Ng pulled down the video with Chen.
These are just two examples of how our behaviour can be ‘controlled’ by using power over the media. But what about all the technological predictions made by George Orwell?
In 1984, telescreens are used by The Party to both disseminate information and keep an eye on its citizens. Last year, Moscow introduced 178,000 surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology, ostensibly to monitor and regulate people’s movements to prevent the spread of COVID. Although the government claim that these measures are temporary and proportionate in light of the pandemic, many citizens are afraid that these measures may indeed last longer than the virus. Many also feel that their privacy and freedoms have been violated. Despite their strong feelings, has the government taken away any of the cameras? More to the point, did they even consult the people to see what they thought before implementing such intrusive technology? It’s not just nations such as Russia and China that are implementing it, either. The UK and America, both democracies, have increased their own coverage in a similar fashion in recent years.
Now, before judging Moscow, let’s look at one of the most popular windows through which our lives are intruded upon – Smartphones. We willingly allow a myriad of private companies to survey our every thought and action – personal and professional – in exchange for access to the digital world. Perhaps this is the key in understanding George Orwell’s work. It’s not so much a warning of what people in power might do. Rather, it is a warning of what we are willing to allow to happen.
Ultimately, governments and companies have control because we allow it. So, before blaming those in charge, maybe we need to look at what we use, how we vote and what we allow to happen. If we hold ourselves accountable, we can then encourage those in power to also be accountable and take responsibility.
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Kellie McCord is a private tutor with over eight years of experience. Having been a lecturer and educator in China, India, Finland and the UK, she has a wealth of teaching experiences, allowing her to build rapport with students from all walks of life. Respect and inclusivity is at the heart of Kellie's Tutoring, which is why she has Diplomas in the Pedagogy of Dyslexia and Mindfulness, allowing her to work with SEND learners. Kellie's mission is to empower students with the self-belief and confidence to achieve their academic goals and set them up for a life of success. To find out more, check her out on: www.kelliestutoring.com