In 1984, the narrator mentions screens that enable the government to observe citizens in their own homes. Citizens were not permitted to turn these screens off. For quite a while I’ve seen a correlation between these surveillance screens and internet access, cell phones, and now i-phone technology, the main difference being that we choose to use them. We can turn them off, and we do, but we depend on them nevertheless.
These devices make us “observable” to others, not necessarily or only to the state, but in a way that potentially guides our actions and maybe even the way we think.
We buy things online. Most of those purchases are in principle more traceable than cash purchases and perhaps even more traceable than purchases by check. At any rate, Amazon seems to know what I might be interested when I log on. Our search terms are (or so I hear) somehow remembered by my Google and contribute to what comes up when we search. When I go to weather dot com, the site knows I live in or around Big City. I assume that it would be fairly easy to track down my real identity from the blogs I comment and write on, or at least narrow the identity to my apartment building. Even dumber technologies like my flip phone track my phone calls and messages and my time zone.
And this is mostly beneficial to me. All this connectivity is entertainment, shopping, and a way to express myself and talk with people online I would probably never get a chance to meet in real life. I’m part of online communities where in my own way I have a voice and an opportunity to speak my mind and learn from others. I have and use a Roku, which streams channels from the ‘net. I listen to music on YouTube.
This is all mostly voluntary. I choose to turn on my computer first thing when I get home. The computer remains on until I go to bed, even if I’m not using it.
Still, I can’t shake the thought that I’m patched into a world where I and my choices are observed or at least observable.
I don’t think I’m paranoid. If I were, I wouldn’t use the computer at all. Or I’d use it less often. Or I’d take greater precautions than I do to protect my anonymity. I don’t think government bureaucrats are monitoring my to’ing’s and fro’ing’s on the internet. I am wary of identity theft, but not that wary.
As I see it, I’m taking two gambles. The first is that my life and views are so uninteresting and so non-influential and enough on the mainstream that no one (I hope) sees any special need to track me down. The second gamble is that there are a lot of fish in the pond for identity thieves, and I hope the chances of me getting my identity stolen is lessened by some sort of law of numbers, in addition to sensible precautions I can take myself.
Above, I compared this situation with Orwell’s 1984. It’s not entirely a good comparison. I’m not arguing that being “observable” is totalitarianism. I’m not even arguing that being observable is the same thing as being observed. In some ways, by being more exposed and more “visible” to the online world, I enjoy greater privacy than people did before such things existed. I probably enjoy more privacy on the web in 2015 than I would, say, in a stereotypical small town or closed neighborhood or enclave where everyone knows everyone else’s business.
But there’s also something not quite voluntary about it even though I choose it freely. It makes me uneasy.
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