diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The man who invented Big Brother

Eric Blair was born in India exactly 100 years ago today. You'll know him better as George Orwell, the famous author of Animal Farm. And that other book.

bio: Eric grew up in the early years of the 20th century in an environment he later described as "lower-upper-middle class". He was sent to Eton but refused to go on to university, and later resigned his job as a policeman to live instead among the poor of London and Paris. He learnt his trade as an author whilst sitting in a miserable bedsit on the Portobello Road, and changed his name to George Orwell in 1933 on the publication of his first book, Down And Out In Paris And London. He continued to write about the British class system in such books as The Road to Wigan Pier and the classic satire Animal Farm. He fought in the Spanish Civil War, then became ill with tuberculosis, worked for the BBC during the Second World War, and later moved to live on the remote Scottish island of Jura. It was here, in 1948 (swap the last two digits around for the title) that he wrote his most famous book, before his untimely death two years later.

1984: Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bleak portrait of a totalitarian society. [Big Brother is watching you] The world exists in a state of permanent war, as the three superpowers of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia take it in turns to gang up on each other. [WAR IS PEACE] Newspeak is the official language of the party, a simplified language designed to make impure thoughts unthinkable. [unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling] London is the chief city of Airstrip One, one of the provinces of Oceania, and here we find our hero Winston Smith, rewriting history at the Minisitry of Truth. [times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify] Every move Winston makes is observed by the ubiquitous telescreens, on which are broadcast the daily Two Minute Hate. [FREEDOM IS SLAVERY] Winston becomes sceptical of the ruling dictatorship and writes about his doubts in an illegal diary. [thoughtcrime - doubleplusungood] He seeks the company of other dissenters, but is betrayed to the Thought Police and ends up being brainwashed in the notorious Room 101. [IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH] For Winston the book has a happy ending, but we the readers are left free to believe otherwise.

BB: Orwell's Big Brother was merely a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen. Nobody ever saw him, but he was always watching. The concept of the Surveillance State was new and frightening in the late 1940s, but many would say that Orwell's predictions have since come true, and more so. CCTV watches us almost everywhere we go. Our mobile phones betray our location down to a few hundred metres. Credit cards and supermarket 'loyalty' cards help others to keep track of patterns in our spending. When you surf the internet, as you're doing right now, you leave a traceable electronic trail behind you. There are even plans to take a DNA sample from all of us at birth, supposedly in the name of medical advancement. It's becoming virtually impossible to live an anonymous life any more.

100 years on from Orwell's birth, a different kind of Big Brother is a nightly experience on our telescreens. More than 100,000 people requested an application form to be part of the latest series, seeking to live for nine weeks under constant scrutiny in a controlled environment. The rest of us maybe haven't realised yet that we're destined to live in similar conditions for the rest of our lives. So, next time you have that uncanny feeling that you're being watched, remember that you probably are. Should you think that your thoughts are likely to get you arrested, be afraid. And, if you ever hear the clocks strike thirteen, get out while you still can.

Doubleplusgood Orwell links:
1984 - read the entire novel online
1984 - a detailed synopsis and study guide
George Orwell - all about his life and works
Orwell Today - how the themes of 1984 echo in today's society (very impressive site)
Newspeak - Orwell's appendix explaining the evolution of the new language
Goodspeak - today's news from Google translated into Newspeak (dead clever)
Big Brother 2003 - could he be watching you? (from Scaryduck)
Has 1984 come true? - a few contrasting views.

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