Steve’s Media Blog

Would George Orwell Be Proud? I don’t think so.

Posted on: February 4, 2009

I read Mark Evans’ blog today about his thoughts on the new Google Maps service, Latitude.  Latitude, in brief, allows you to find your friends through google maps via cell phone data.

Evans compared Latitude to the level of Big Brother and posited that George Orwell would be proud of our society, making his “vision” in 1984 a reality.  I have to respectfully disagree.  Getting people to properly understand 1984 is one of my biggest “crusades” if you will, because a lot of people throw around the term “Big Brother” without realizing what the term actually meant in the novel.

Evans calls Google “the Big Brother of the web” – no doubt Google is watching our search terms, but that is data we voluntarily submit.  Google doesn’t penetrate any further than the Internet, so if you’re really paranoid you can stop using it altogether and Google will stop gathering data from your searches.  Latitude itself is opt-in, so if you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to.

I’m sorry Mark but did you pay attention when you read 1984?  Orwell’s words weren’t exactly a shining vision of the future – it’s not like he wanted that for everyone.  The main focus was on Big Brother, yes, but a lot of the control the government exerted was by editing historical documents to match whatever they wanted society to believe and in effect keep them too confused to know what’s going on.

But my main beef – and it’s not just with Mark, it’s with everyone who throws around the term – is with the use of “Big Brother”.  A lot of people apply that term to any kind of technology that inhibits privacy and serves to “spy” on the public.  However, Big Brother was very ambiguous in 1984 – Big Brother is said to be always watching, but it is also heavily implied that there really is no Big Brother at all.

In short, the idea of Big Brother was to get society to police itself.  Children would often turn in their own parents.  I highly doubt this is the case with most technologies being released today – Big Brother is not watching us, and I really don’t think that George Orwell would be “proud” of society heading in the direction that he depicted.


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