Orwell’s dead. Get over it.

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1984It’s gotten to be a bad joke, recently re-highlighted by the “discovery” that some of the new Samsung Smart TVs have cameras and microphones that could detect the goings-on in front of them (to allow better control of the TV): When people saw the “terms and conditions” warning that any criminal or terrorist-related visuals or words picked up by the TV could potentially be forwarded to the authorities, the web-verse immediately invoked George Orwell, and decried that “1984 was here.”

And as it happened, the spirit of George Orwell reared up out of his grave and said: “Oh, shut up and let me get some sleep already!”

George Orwell has become the modern world’s favorite broken record.  Anything that even vaguely hints that the government might have some way of watching us, listening to us, or keeping track of our movements, instantly conjures up the tropes familiar to anyone who’s read Orwell’s 1984, and quite a few who haven’t.  In 1984, the main character, Winston, lives in forced squalor, is actively watched through his television (and addressed by name when his mandatory morning exercises are slacking off), is employed by his government to regularly change historical documents to erase people the government has deemed unpopular or subversive, and when he has an unapproved liaison with a girl, he is arrested and physically and psychologically tortured.  He is miserable, alone and broken, and he is emblematic of everyone in that society.

And this is the world that people like to reference, on a vehement basis, when the government shows any sign of paying attention to what its citizens do.

Frankly, it’s become annoying and kind of pathetic.  The Samsung discovery is particularly sad, given that the things people are singling out against their Smart TVs, that they can potentially watch and listen to users in their living rooms, is nothing compared to the ability to track, watch and listen to users of cellphones… and cellphone users take their phones everywhere, not thinking twice about being watched or listened to in their bathrooms, on their toilets, in their beds…

It’s an indication of how hypocritical and short-sighted people are in the first place.  It goes alongside the idea that their government, in an era of corrupt leaders, uncaring hirelings, limited manpower, buggy technology and ever-thinner budgets, actually have the people and technology available to actively watch and listen to everyone, right now.  Newsflash: If the government could actually do that, you’d know, because there would not be a single unemployed person in the world—they would all have jobs, watching other people, because you’d need that many employees to keep track of everyone in the nation.

Person of Interest: The Machine interfaceYou’d also think that a public with this mindset would take more notice of television shows like Person of Interest, in which a man has invented a machine that actually can watch and listen to everyone… which he keeps reined in by design to avoid compromising people’s identities unnecessarily.  Person of Interest regularly and directly addresses the philosophical issues Big Brother enthusiasts love to debate ad nauseam; but when it comes to a show which actually provides some realistic scenarios (for television, anyway) and legitimate answers to some of those questions, the Big Brother fans fade away.

And they should—for they really have nothing to show for their paranoia.  They can claim all they want about their evil governments, but there is absolutely nothing to support their claims, or to even suggest that all of us are being herded, intentionally lied to, intentionally kept down, physically and psychologically tortured, or forced to live miserable lives in service of an authoritarian dictator.  It’s a convenient fiction to justify the fact that their lives aren’t fully in their control, and ignoring the fact that there are other, perfectly logical and obvious reasons to explain it.  It’s a crutch, an attempt to use conspiracies as an excuse for personal and societal inadequacies.

Well, speaking on behalf of George Orwell, I’d like to advise all of you to give it a rest.  We don’t need conspiracies to explain our difficulties in life, some of which are inherent in society, and some of which are inherent in ourselves—because as long as we blame the wrong things for our faults, we can’t properly fix the right things.  It’s time to stop seeing bogeymen around every corner, and accept reality for what it is: Hard, but real.

Just watch your TV.  And let George get some sleep.  He’s deserved it.

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7 thoughts on “Orwell’s dead. Get over it.

  1. nice. But I push the problem back even further. If more folks actually understood how their technology worked – they’d have been protesting these intrusions much earlier in history and we might not be seeing these kinds of complaints at all (because “deliberate opt-in” would be enshrined in law).

    Liked by 1 person

    • A good point. The public has historically paid little attention to the operations “behind the curtain” and “under the hood,” satisfied that they were getting their bells and whistles… and that’s cost us a lot. It’s particularly ironic blaming an all-seeing Big Brother for our own intentional blindness.

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    • Yes, James: Conspiracies are notoriously easy to blame, especially since there’s no one to actually confront who could possibly refute it. Religions often serve the same purpose (the “God’s will” excuse), as does referring to Fate as if it is a locked-in timeline that cannot be changed.

      And yes, there’s a deep-seated psychological bias behind it… but knowing that is the first step towards moving beyond the bias and recognizing the reality.

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  2. A conspiracy is something believed but unsubstantiated. I shall let this SUBSTANTIATED thing speak for itself.

    The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)

    “Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

    But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.””

    http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/

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    • I’ll just say that it’s a long way from storing everyone’s digital “pocket litter” and telling everyone where to walk, how to talk and think, and whether the news they heard today wasn’t true yesterday. THAT was Orwell’s fictional world. What you’re describing isn’t that much different from what the aggregate of every commercial organization has been doing for years.

      And I challenge you to substantiate that the organization is in place to do something other than their stated mission above.

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