2016 Is The New 1984

I’ve been reading my way through the “English classics I probably should have read in high school but somehow didn’t” this past month and slowly working my way up (or down?) to a 12th grade reading level.

Summary: Animal Farm? Good. The Scarlet Letter? Excellent. Catcher In The Rye? Didn’t get it. To Kill A Mockingbird? In progress but loving it. 1984? Yikes.

I just finished George Orwell’s dystopian novel from the mid 20th Century and rank it pretty high on my list of  “terrifying glimpses into the future” books.  It bypassed The Giver with a wide margin, barely squeaked past Anthem and sits squarely underneath Atlas Shurgged and Brave New World.  Overall, I still agree with Postman’s thesis in Amusing Ourselves to Death that it is Huxley’s world of brain-numbing entertainment that is more probable than Orwell’s Big Brother brainwashing in 1984 but there was at least one striking similarity to Orwell’s world and our own that made my heart skip a beat.

The telescreen.  If you haven’t read 1984 yet, it’s a two-way television that monitors your every word, movement, and facial expression.  It’s used by the Thought Police to identify and exterminate potential traitors.  Terrifying, right?

Yet we are pre-ordering them as fast as we can type in our credit card information.  Today’s telescreen is known as Google Home or Amazon’s Echo. Or to hit closer to home, Siri.

The appeal of this virtual assistant (robot?!) devices is obvious.  You can look up information, set timers, manage your to-do list, cook spaghetti, decide on where to go out, order take-out, ignore your spouse,  play music, etc… with just a few words.   As someone who is in love with all things centralized, the idea of having one device with many purposes is extremely alluring.

But there’s the flip side.  How do these devices know when you’re talking to it?  You say, “Ok, Google” or “Alexa” or “Siri.”  Which means it’s ALWAYS LISTENING.  Right now, it might not be recording everything you say.  Right now, the government might not be allowed to subpeona those records.   All I can say is that I’m going to wait and see how these play out before inviting a telescreen into my home.

All right, now that you’re fully convinced I’m a conspiracy theorist, let me know what you think. Does two-way technology freak you out at all?  If you need me, you can find me in my bunker (just kidding…for now).