Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
News Your Rights Online

MIT Technology Review on Where Orwell Went Wrong 667

nakhla writes "MIT's Technology Review is running an interesting article entitled Who's Afraid of 1984? The article talks about Orwell's famous work, and examines how Orwell's view of technology's impact on freedom and democracy was flawed. The article points out that, in fact, freedom and democracy were strengthened by technological innovations, and addresses its affect on Stalinism and Nazism. An interestng read for those who are worried about technology's impact on our generation and beyond."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

MIT Technology Review on Where Orwell Went Wrong

Comments Filter:
  • wrong? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CrazyDwarf ( 529428 )
    I don't think Orwell was really that far off. We already have major cities with Big Brother Facial Recognition Software running.

    joke If HDTV ever catches on, I'm not buying one... I don't want their camera looking back at me. /joke
  • So far... (Score:5, Funny)

    by zerosignal ( 222614 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:02PM (#3904132) Homepage Journal
    So far, the only thing we know for certain that Orwell was wrong about was the year.
    • by unicron ( 20286 ) < minus cat> on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:06PM (#3904180) Homepage
      Man, that Mac sure has come in handy in fighting off Totalitarianism over the past 18 years.
    • Why do you say that? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nindalf ( 526257 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @05:19PM (#3904773)
      Remember Orwell's book is called 2084. It has always been called 2084, and it will always be called 2084.

      So things don't go badly in the real 2084, it is very important that we give our full and unconditional love and obedience to our government, the sole defender of freedom in the world. Otherwise, we could face the horrors Orwell wrote about: economic ruin, mass unemployment, global warming, parentless children roaming the streets in packs, cities isolated and divided by attacks on communication infrastructure synchronized with encrypted messages over the very same lines, suitcase nuclear weapons, drug-dealing warlords with more power than a feeble and helpless legitimate government, and so forth.

      We need to make sure there is no place for a terrorist like Big Brother to hide.
  • an alternate view (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:02PM (#3904139) Homepage Journal
    While the point is well taken that technology has been used for more good than evil throughout history, we should not celebrate it blindly. Recall that such innovators as Henry Ford and Eli Whitney had worldviews that we would call racist and fascist today, and that Nazi Germany gave us advances in physics (via rocketry) and mathematics (encryption). The current crop of rogue hacker terrorists is just the latest iteration of this all-too-common archetype. Technology can be a great thing, but it shouldn't be worshipped without skepticism.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      dont forget the horrible atrocities that the German Government performed during WW-II coupled with the same atrocities that the Amercians and Brits performed during the 1500-1800's on the American native population did to advance medical science..

      Everyone's hands are dirty... don't ever forget that.
    • by DrVxD ( 184537 )
      > Nazi Germany gave us advances in physics (via rocketry) and mathematics (encryption).
      I think more advances in mathematics were due to decryption (the field in which a little know guy by the name of Alan Turing [] really made his mark on the war). But I guess you could argue quite reasonably that it was a consequence of encryption.
      Oh, and don't forget the advances in weapons of mass destruction [].
    • Technology can be a great thing, but it shouldn't be worshipped without skepticism.

      I hate it when people say crap like that. What the *&%$ does that mean?
    • by Tenebrious1 ( 530949 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @05:34PM (#3904874) Homepage
      Technology can be a great thing, but it shouldn't be worshipped without skepticism.

      There is no problem with technology. Technology is neither good nor bad, it is just the application of science. It is the application of the technology that can be good or bad, as you say in the first line. Why celebrate technology at all? We see it on /. all the time, new breakthroughs in science... we'll celebrate in 5 years when that new technology is applied and an actual product is on the shelf.

      There was nothing bad about the Germans inventing the rocket during WW2. The problem was they used the rocket to boost warheads towards London. There was nothing bad about encryption, except the Germans used it to secretly communicate plans of war. There is nothing wrong with technology, there is no reason to be skeptical about technology.

      It's also the argument driving human cloning. There is nothing good or bad about the technology itself, it's just science and science must go on. Should we be skeptical of the technology itself because it can eventually lead to "organ farms"? Or should we encourage the technology in hopes that good uses such as tissue regeneration becomes a reality and save our skepticism for when someone proposes to build a baby cloning facility?

      Yes, there are some instances where we do want to be skeptical why a person/corporation/country is developing certain technologies- Iraq and bio-chemical research is one example. But is there any reason to be skpetical about IBM and their research? About new technologies they develop? I don't think so. As I said before, I wouldn't go cheering word they've developed mondo-capacity memory chips until they were on the market, but being skeptical of the technology itself, that's overkill. Be skeptical of the uses of technology, not the technology itself.

      • While in general, your statement holds to be true, like all rules it has its exceptions.

        One very large exception is the growth of technology's effect of the environment. The fact that it used to be, if your TV broke, you took it to the repair shop. Now TV's are so cheap, everybody just gets a new one. Disposable devices ad trinkets are all the rage, now, and their use is growing.

        I'm sure that in my lifetime, I will see the introduction of a disposible cellphone. Many other things are now considered this way as well, computer printers, and any other computer device, really. There's no way to fix a trashed video card.

        Our rampant consumerism may cause our downfall if we don't stop buying the latest gimmick every time a new one comes out. Try to take a second out of everyday and think, "Do I really need this?"

        I know, I know, I preach way to much.
      • You are precisely right about everything you have said here. The problem is that all of this means that article is largely wrong. It was not the technology that brought down Stalinism, it was the way it was used and the fact that America and Europe got it first. If the Stallinists had developped some of the technology earlier, we may have a very different world. If the Nazis had developped some of the technology earlier, in particular if they had won the race to the Nuclear bomb, we would have had a very different world indeed.
      • But is there any reason to be skpetical about IBM and their research? About new technologies they develop? I don't think so.

        IBM and the holocaust []

        Also, please notice that statements like

        There is nothing wrong with technology, there is no reason to be skeptical about technology.

        are statements of opinion, not fact. Lines of research might be pursued for political reasons just as well as for any other kinds. While it may be true in theory that technology itself has no preferences, trying to apply such statements to the real world is splitting hairs at best, disingenious at worst.

    • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @05:48PM (#3904957)

      > Karma: Good (mostly affected by moderation done to your comments)

      Since Taco insists on progressively obfuscating karma, I suggest that he go one step further and simply show you an icon of what animal you will be reincarnated as if you continue with your current karmic habits.

      And of course, he should support a user preference that allows you to display your destiny with a roguelike symbol, in case you want to turn off image downloads, or brag about your karma in your .sig

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is it possible it took the direction it did because of 1984, rather than inspite of it.

    Do writtings such as 1984 make us more aware?
  • by selectspec ( 74651 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:04PM (#3904158)
    I think Orwell was more afraid of Socialism than technology.
    • That would be surprising since he almost gave his life fighting for it in Spain (Homage to Catalonia). What Orwell was against was Stalinism, not socialism.

      1984, if you have read it, is about what happens when the unions have been crushed.

      Palladium + ISP snooping on customers without consent or knowledge and without a search warrent.

      We are getting there.

      Orwell was just wrong about the year.

      (as you can tell by my name, I am no fan of Stalinism either).

    • by invckb ( 551932 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:13PM (#3904238)
      Actually, Orwell was a Socialist.

      Orwell was afraid of Totalitarianism, and both 1984 and Animal Farm should be viewed as a declaration against tyrants, not an endorsement of conservative values.

      • ...both 1984 and Animal Farm should be viewed as a declaration against tyrants, not an endorsement of conservative values.

        Books should be viewed as each reader perceives them. There is no right or wrong. You can quibble over an author's intention's, but that's a wholely different question as to how they should be perceived.

        One of the great things about books is the expression of thought, and the freedom of each reader to interpret each idea as they see fit. Look how many people can read the same book (e.g., the Bible) and come away with so many varying viewpoints on it.

    • As other's have posted Orwell was indeed railing against totalitarianism. However, that's where this article gets it wrong. The cornerstone of 1984 is not technology, per se, but information. Confusing the two is like trying to equate "Animal Farm" to "Babe". And while information may want to be free (and for the most part currently is), there are many; like the current U.S. Executive and legislative branches, the various media associations, and others who are doing their best to limit those freedoms.
  • bias? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by quinine ( 20902 )
    Oh, hey, what a freakin' surprise!

    "New Institute of Technology finding: Technology is Good"
  • by Mr. Buckaroo ( 75837 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:06PM (#3904175)
    So between:
    Facial profiling
    Universal Id's
    Echelon systems
    Wiretaps that don't require court orders
    Carnavore systems

    We don't have an increasing trend of monitoring technology?

    With almost all forms of communication going digital we don't have increasingly easy monitoring?

    With the war on terrorism we don't have justification for increased monitoring?

    What about all the cameras we now have all over Britain and increasingly in other metro areas?

    We definitely are increasingly having Orwell's big brother/sister. I'd say the distinction is that society is welcoming/asking for it.
    • by Yohahn ( 8680 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:26PM (#3904363)

      The only mistake that orwell seemed to make was the timeline, and accounting for biotech. (how long untill genetic profiling?)

      between TIPS [] (aka "The Party".. are you a member?)
      DRM and the olagopoly of companies now being allowed to own the media, we are well on our way to being told "the big lie"

      DRM requires no copying of digital media without permission. And soon we will be required to have all digital broadcast media.

      Perhaps he should have also been more afraid of the private sector than the coporate sector.

      We're ending up with the MAX HEADROOM future instead of the 1984 one.
    • You've sort of got it right. All of our monitoring technologies are being used by government directed by special interest groups. What we are facing is a democracy of one group mind. Any deviant will bare the full force of monitoring technology.

      So what is deviant? Deviant is anything that the majority or an influencial party considers deviant. Want to hack CSS in another country where it is legal? I'd be afraid of the long arm of the US government (oops that should probably read MPAA governemt.) I'd also be afraid if PETA ever gets some influence. Imagine spyware catching you wearing leather!
  • Radio on a chip?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:06PM (#3904176)
    Rather vanilla article, pretty much just a re-hash about what's been said about 1984 over the past 2 decades.

    Hidden near the end, for those that can't/won't read the article:

    Radios have become so inexpensive that Intel is now planning to engrave a miniature one on the corner of every silicon microchip, at no extra cost.

    It links to a subscriber-only article, so there really aren't any further details. Hell, I think something like this deserves a Slashdot story all to itself! This has gotta be the coolest hack I've heard all year.

    • No references, but it was pretty recent. Intel is considering adding Bluetooth or 811.* or something similar to every processor, because it's such a small cost, for a gain in ubiquity.
  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:07PM (#3904190) Homepage Journal
    [Redacted by Homeland Security Autofilter]
  • A big part of the reason that Orwell's 1984 didn't come true is because we had Orwell to warn us. I can't think of any other book which has had such impact on freedom and human rights in this century.

    • > I can't think of any other book which has had such impact on freedom and human rights in this century

      Mein Kampf, perhaps? Maybe not the effects of the book itself, but the effects of the horrors arising from its "teachings" have had a huge impact.

      (And what's the betting that somebody mods this down because they didn't read that scentence correctly?)
    • Exactly, if Orwell hadn't written his book, we very well might have seen Orwells vision earlier. 1984 scared some people, and it made some more vigilant. However, if you look at the way things are going all 1984 has done is gotten us a bit past that actual year, but that's still the direction we are headed. It's just takeing longer because people are aware of the idea and not everyone likes it.

      I dunno if that made sense, maybe I should go back to eating my lunch now so my blood sugar goes back to normal before posting any more ;)
    • This is still something that would have been predicted by psychohistory - the release of the book and the delay it would create in the inevitability.

      er, I've been reading too many books.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:09PM (#3904197)
    They did not use technology to make totalitarianism unstoppable, they did it through doublethink. You imprisoned yourself. In fact they never killed anyone who did not wish to be killed for the crimes they did against the state.

    The whole idea of doublethink and the ability to hold 2 contradictory ideas at once as truth is a powerful tool of control. It requires zero technology. The MIT guys totally missed the boat. In the end if you remember Smith wished to die for his sins.

    I wish I could say our society was doublethink free, sadly everyday I see more evidence of its growing existence. Orwell may have been off a few decades, but he was right on the ball.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Like all great sci-fi, 1984 isn't (and wasn't) about the future, but about the present. In this case, it was about the reality of life in communist regimes. It has little or nothing to say about "technology's impact", and only the over-literal who managed to miss the point of the book would think it does.
    • > Like all great sci-fi, 1984 isn't (and wasn't) about the future
      1984 isn't sci-fi. It's political fiction. The fact that it was set in the future doesn't make it sci-fi.
  • by ebh ( 116526 ) <edhorch AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:09PM (#3904201) Journal
    The point of 1984 was not so much that there would be technology sufficient to implement totalitarianism (which as others have pointed out, we have today). The main thing was that "whoever controls the past controls the future".

    That's why I fear Big Media aggregation. When news, history and other public information gets disseminated from fewer and fewer sources, it's going to be more and more tempting for those sources to use that information power to their own ends. Consider the term "Disneyfication." Also:

    Ketchup is a vegetable.

    Global warming? It's not true, and besides, there's nothing you can do about it.

    Corporations are not bound by the pesky constitutions that kept governments from doing what Orwell predicted.
    • "Who controls the past now, controls the future.
      Who controls the present now, controls the past."
      -- Rage Against The Machine

    • Exactly! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PatientZero ( 25929 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:49PM (#3904573)
      Sure, the idea of telescreens in every home was scary, but it was just one facet of 1984. How about constant warfare to keep production levels high and boost GNP? Weapons are basically waste products: you build them and then throw them away. The world (and barely even the U.S.) hasn't been in a state of peace since WW2.

      Whether it's a totalitarian controlling all information or a few media conglomerates, what's the difference? A small group of people decide what's important to the viewers. I just watched a program the other night that compared crime rates to the reporting of crime on TV. Crime reports went way up over the past ten years while the crime rate went down slightly. It gives the impression to the uninformed that crime has actually sky-rocketed out of control.

      Keeping a high prison population is also a good waste product that boosts GNP. In the U.S. the prison population has gone from 200,000 in early 1970's to over 2 million in 2002. The majority of that is due to nonviolent drug offenders. Yet prison construction and technology is one of the highest growth industries in the U.S., and it's basically corporate welfare.

      The article also claims that technology and democracy were responsible for the demise of Communism. This is not true. The USSR couldn't compete against the U.S. market dominance. Capitalism is geared toward utilizing resources as quickly as possible for maximum capital growth, and the U.S. works very hard to make sure we have access to the world's resources.

      It's not just a coincidence that the U.S. has been trying to build a pipeline for natural gas through Afghanistan for the past few years with no luck. Now that we've installed a U.S.-friendly regime the pipeline will be built, and the engineers will have U.S. Rangers to guard their construction efforts.

      In summary, the author saw a few differences between Orwell's vision and reality today and decided that everything was incorrect. We're suddenly living in a wonderful utopia and can go back to merrily consuming products without any worry about totalirianism or big brother. No thanks!

      • Re:Exactly! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gilroy ( 155262 )
        Blockquoth the poster:
        The world (and barely even the U.S.) hasn't been in a state of peace since WW2.
        Well, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single year when "the world" has been at peace, without going back to before the first guy clubbed someone with an antelope femur...

        The article also claims that technology and democracy were responsible for the demise of Communism. This is not true. The USSR couldn't compete against the U.S. market dominance
        Duh-huh, what? What exactly do you think gave the US "market dominance"? Why, exactly, could the Soviet block not compete? Because the West had much superior logitistics, tech, and industry... The capitalist ethic (and a relative sparseness of people!) drove innovation, which then fed the cycle to push the technology (and then production) to ever-higher levels.

        The Soviet Union probably could have competed indefinitely against the United States of the 1930s. Unfortunately for them, the US kept moving the goal posts... and it is largely the heavy investment in technology (coupled to a fluid and open society) that achieved that.

        • Re:Exactly! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by PatientZero ( 25929 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @06:23PM (#3905144)
          Well, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single year when "the world" has been at peace, without going back to before the first guy clubbed someone with an antelope femur.

          I don't mean to include every little local conflict; I'm speaking only about major conflicts like the U.S.'s invasion of Southeast Asia, Indonesia's genecide in East Timor, Israel's invasion of Lebanon, etc.

          What exactly do you think gave the US "market dominance"?

          A strong penchant for greed. A huge head start with an established empire that was expanded immensely by WW2 (the U.S. replaced England as the world's most powerful empire). Access to a lot of natural resources, both locally and globally. Capital (wealth) from Europe. And the world's most powerful military.

          Note that while Communism spread to other countries, the U.S. never intended to democratize the world. Instead it steadily built a global empire of totalitarian colonies beholden to U.S. power. Using the IMF and World Bank, the U.S. corrupts the elite to maintain their power from afar using capital to gain access to the country's natural resources. Those resources are then shipped to the U.S. rather than being used to better the lives of those living in the country. Capitalism is basically a huge wealth vacuum, sucking capital into its center of power.

          While the U.S. continues to improve its standard of living overall, the poor in the U.S. are further distanced from the wealthy. When you compare the U.S. to its colonies the situation is far worse. Sure, some technology is leaking slowly into developing nations, but by and large the local population looks just like the U.S.: a few powerful elite in the center and a mass of poor doing the work.

          It works just like the food pyrimad: on the bottom you have the plants (poor). They can support fewer herbivores (middle class). Those in turn can support far fewer carnivores (wealthy elite). And just as in 1984, you tie each level's survival to their ability to keep the level below them under control. Thus the elite only need control the middle class, who in turn control the poor.

          I'm not saying Capitalism has no benefits to society, and I'm not claiming Communism is a great form of government. I believe that, like everything else in nature, society must continually evolve. Capitalism may spur innovation and production, but at what cost to society? Yes, my life is better off (access to technology and a fairly easy lifestyle), but the cost is many millions of starving poor or simply oppressed people throughout the world. I don't like knowing that other people are paying that price.

      • Re: Exactly! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Black Parrot ( 19622 )

        > Sure, the idea of telescreens in every home was scary, but it was just one facet of 1984. How about constant warfare to keep production levels high and boost GNP?

        One of my favorite amusements these days is watching the Administration's juggling act, trying to terrify the public so it will support a very vague "war" effort and an accelerated erosion of civil liberties, and simultaneously to reassure the public that everything is A-OK, in order to drive the stock market back up. (Recent corporate scandal news has obfuscated this conflict somewhat, but it's still there if you look.)

        > Keeping a high prison population is also a good waste product that boosts GNP. In the U.S. the prison population has gone from 200,000 in early 1970's to over 2 million in 2002. The majority of that is due to nonviolent drug offenders.

        I wonder sometimes whether that is partly aimed at reducing the (reported) unemployment.

        > Yet prison construction and technology is one of the highest growth industries in the U.S., and it's basically corporate welfare.

        In some states they are going further, contracting out the administration of prison facilities to privately held corporations, as well as the construction.

        It is also interesting to compare the cost of sending a citizen to college vs. incarcerating a citizen for four years, yet the public seems to be much more enthusiastic about funding prisons than they are about funding education.

    • ...pesky constitutions that kept governments from doing what Orwell predicted

      Don't know much history, do you?
    • "Global warming? It's not true, and besides, there's nothing you can do about it."

      Actually the rich have so far tried the following arguments in this order.

      "Global warming does not exist"
      "Global warming might exists but it's not our fault and we can't do anything about it"

      and finally when people didn't buy either one they are now increasingly trying this one.

      "global warming is good for you"

      That last one has also been used for toxic waste, genetic engineering, pesticides etc.
  • by Deskpoet ( 215561 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:10PM (#3904212) Homepage Journal
    The article's premise that Orwell was a "futurist" is flawed.

    Even a cursory examination of 1984 reveals it to be not a prediction of the future of technology, or any, future, for that matter. It is a heavy-handed condemnation of totalitarian states, whether they be "communist" or "capitalist". One could also view it as the "dark" Animal Farm, but that would be glossing over targets: AF *was* about communism; 1984 was about statism in general.

    Excluding the lugubrious prose, 1984 is still a pretty effective argument against the total state, and its message is all the more germaine in this day of Homeland Security and PATRIOT acts. Remember that Winston Smith was an English bloke, one of the "good guys", but he still wound up eye-to-eye with ravenous rats.....

    • Agreed! I do not like it when people take a book like 1984 or a movie like 2001 and say, "See look, they were wrong, our future isn't like that at all." When that wasn't the point or purpose of it at all. Any work of science fiction that strives to only be a prediction of what future will be is shallow and has little value.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Orwell, and other writers such as Dick, by warning of some of the dangers of technology have helped us to steer clear of some them. If you know your future, you can change it... right?

    Although, I must say, the Department/Office of Homeland Security is the most Orwellian sounding name the US Government could've used.
  • Let's look at this from a different angle.

    First, we'll agree that the more you know, the more powerful you are.

    Then we'll say that technology can be harnessed to process data into information at alarming rates.

    And observe too how much of our lives takes its course through technological means; e-mail, television, telephone network, cell phone, ad nauseam.

    Put all three together, stir well, leave overnight, and what do you get?

    With proper resources, we live in a time with unprecedented opportunity for data harvesting and processing. Such proper resources are most likely to be found in an organization as large and unaccountable such as 'government'.

    I could be on the wrong track here, but things like Echelon, Carnivore, Magic Lantern, etc. make me think not.

  • "Many of the GPS receivers used in Desert Storm were bought at Radio Shack."

    Oh sigh, I used to work retail electronic sales and dream about some guy in fatigues walking in and saying "Do you have 183,000 of these in stock? When can you have them in by?"

    And the military guys always go for the extended warrantee and the spare battery plus cleaning kit.
  • by cluge ( 114877 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:13PM (#3904240) Homepage
    Orwell's vision wasn't wrong, it may be he just had the year incorrect. Not everything has come to pass yet. Yet being the operative word, especially if we as a society allow it. Just look at proposed legislation in our own congress (copy right and anti-terrorist and `protect the children`). Look at the DCMA (Is reverse engineering really illegal???).

    Here are some other things that HAVE come to pass

    1. Many Police units have their own paramilitary force
    2. Camera Camera everywhere, and more on the way
    3. Reading certain books can and will get you put on a "watch list"
    4. Members of certain political parties are actively discriminated against (not all presidential canidates will face each other in a debate)
    5. Loosening controls on wiretaps and eavesdropping (more so in Europe than here)

    This article didn't convince me that our freedoms aren't under attack. It just reminded me how many sheep there are in the world

  • Pop Quiz (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Whispers_in_the_dark ( 560817 ) <rich.harkins@gmail.COMMAcom minus punct> on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:16PM (#3904272)
    Q: Was 1984 wrong?
    A: No, technology is just as capable of enslaving as it is liberating.
    Q: Was 1984 right?
    A: No, technology's use isn't exclusively tyrrany.
    Q: Should we be afraid of technology?
    A: No, technology isn't evil on its own. We always need to be skeptical of overzealous use of anything.
    Q: Should we trust all purposes of technology?
    A: No, technology can be used as a tool for many purposes, not all of them for our betterment.
    Q: What's your point then?
    A: The point is that Orwell has a point, but like any work of fiction (or fact for that matter) it is only an illustration of something, not the thing itself.

    1984 could only possibly be a warning of the *possible* misuse of technology. Although eerie, Orwell could not possibly know for sure how it would be used and it is still up to us as the governed to determine how we will accept its role in our lives.

    These are my views and your milage, as always, may vary.
  • After watching Ashcroft for a while, I'm beginning to think that Orwells flaw was more of a question of time. When, not how. While civil liberties are still defended we know have (among other things):

    1. Office of homeland security (can anyone say, ministry of information from brazil?)
    2. Carnivore
    3. The govenment want to hold non-citizens practically indefinately without due process
    4. The governments new power []
    5. Internet Censureship within china. []
    6. And, of course, Microsoft.

    I think a lot of freedoms have been found by the internet in the US. But remember the US is 250-300 million people out of 5-6 billion. Do you think the Chinese think 1984 is flawed?

    • "Ahem, you wan't Information Retrieval, sir."

      7. TIPS (government sponsored ratting!)
      8. internationally supported KEY ESCROW!

      I agree completely. I wonder how chinese students feel about 1984, assuming they are allowed to read it!

    • > Do you think the Chinese think 1984 is flawed?
      I doubt they'd have an opinion, since I doubt they'd be allowed to read it...
  • by quantax ( 12175 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:22PM (#3904324) Homepage
    1984 was a fictional book, and is not meant to be taken as a mirror of reality. Though the themes it exhibits did exist in the Soviet Union at the time, this serves more as a warning than anything else. If you read this book and said 'Haha, looks like Orwell was wrong after all, its 2002 and that hasn't happened yet!' you missed the entire point of the book. It was more of a treatise on communism & tyranny than about technology specifically. Technology is good and all, and yes in certain respects is allows more freedom, but it just as equally eliminates it, as well as privacy. For most technology, there are 'good' and 'bad' uses. Atomic research was done for weaponry, but now we can use it for energy purposes, rocket research done by Germans was used for the (unsuccessful) V1 & V2 rockets, but has allowed us to leave our planet. The largest problem with technology today is that the social acceptance is slower than the rate it is discovered, which results in many ethical/religous issues. I would not laugh at Big Brother quite yet, especially in light of current initiatives such as Palladium, DRM, amongst many others. Maybe it won't be a government, but rather a corperation; money is more valuable than freedom or privacy to those in power.
  • Ya know.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Asprin ( 545477 ) <> on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:23PM (#3904339) Homepage Journal

    ...for an article published in the MIT Technology Review, that wasn't nearly as "beefy" I expected.

    Salon has longer and deeper advertisements.

    Oh well, I guess they said what they wanted to say.

  • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:23PM (#3904342) Homepage Journal
    The main thrust of the article is that while Orwell envisioned technology being used to enslave people that in recent times technology (specifically information and telecommunication-related tech) has actually been used to liberate people especially with the end of the Cold War. The author completely missed the point of 1984 and must also be blind to what is happening in the US and around the world today.

    First of all, 1984 is not a commentary on the evils of technology but instead a vision of a world where repressive government completely holds sway. Technology by itself is not good or bad but can be used for evil or good depending on who controls it. The same PC that is used to work on homework assignments can be used to download kiddie pr0n, the same knife used for preparing a meal can be used to commit murder, the same car used for taking ones offspring to school can be used in a hit & run accident.

    Secondly, it isn't cut and dried that governments and corporations aren't using technology to repress their citizens and employees. From genetic testing of employees before promotion to biometrics and government DNA banks to ever vigilant camera surveilance, people are being silently and overtly repressed. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg which I am sure will get worse as time progresses, just take a look at the US government's citizen informant program aka Operation TIPS [] which has been criticized by the ACLU []
  • Kafka's `The Trial' (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cygnusx ( 193092 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:25PM (#3904356) Homepage
    There was this paper [] (short writeup here []) that argued that Orwell had it wrong, Big Brother (or lots of little brothers for that matter) wasn't the _primary_ threat, it was much more insiduous than that --
    We are not heading toward a world of Big Brother or one composed of Little Brothers -- but toward a more mindless process -- of bureaucratic indifference, arbitrary errors, and dehumanization -- a world that is beginning to resemble Kafka's vision in "The Trial".
    Makes a number of interesting points.
  • Technology changes the rules of the game. Technology used as a freedom enhancing device today is the freedom restricting device of tomorrow (all depends on who's controlling the tech). Do you think the government being able to track your every move as something that would give you or them more control? It seems to me that the government is controlling the citizens more and more every day. Instead of the citizens controlling the government.

    Who knows what the hell the NAZI's would have done with today's technology.. I shudder to think. In today's technology laden atmosphere is has become easy if not commonplace to lie and manipulate statistics to back up your arguments.. We're seeing it already in our government and corporations on an alarming scale.

    Take the reigns before they reign you in.

  • I disagree with this flimsy article. Pick up a copy of "The Transparent Society" by Brinn. It was written a few years ago, and offers three possible scenarios: a) society watches the watchers with the same technology, b) we let them survey all they want and pretend it doesn't exist, or c) we acknowledge the technology and learn to live transparently. Either way, privacy is FUCKED.

    The question is, how many people can be secretly detained indefinitely without a warrent before the dumbed-down McPopulace takes notice??

  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:31PM (#3904409)
    The risk isn't in the technology itself but in who controls the technology. Sure it is possible to listen to dissention but that is merely because those in power have failed to keep ahead of the curve. Look at the western world now. Information is controlled by a small handfull of media conglomerates, these conglomerates in turn set the political adgenda and present the populace with their own views on the world. The internet is a great source of information but with the exception of google think about where they are going. Remember that the internet is still a somewhat new phenomenon to corporations. People with power and money can already pay to have their sites appear at the top of any search leaving dissenting sites almost impossible to find and litigation can destroy sites critical of them. While we are still in very good shape as far as access to information goes on the web how long is it before ICANN becomes completely dominated by corporate interests and won't accept "unsatisfactory" webpages.

    Sure there is a good chance that in the west we may be able to avoid it but that doesn't erease the chance of it happening. I would argue that China is very much becoming 1984 as envisioned. As to fabrication of information just look at the Beijing newspaper's response to finding out The Onion story was false "'Some small American newspapers frequently fabricate offbeat news to trick people into noticing them, with the aim of making money,' the paper said. 'This is what the Onion does.'" Is that bending the truth enough? Add to that blocking certain content from being accessable over the internet, controlling the media, numerous human rights violations, indocternation, spreading false news about "enemies" (Falon Gong), they arn't that far away from reaching Orwell's vision.
  • Technology is never good or bad. Technology just is.

    Technology is simply a tool that expands the power and abilities of the user with certain side effects. Are guns 'bad'? No! Guns exist, and free thinking individuals decide how to use them.

    Are CCD cameras bad? Of course not. But in the hands of a repressive government they can be terrible.

    I don't really think 1984 was meant to portray technology in a bad light any more than animal farm was a warning against farm animals. The real point is that man, as a species, is selfish and power hungry, and that technology only amplifies his abilities to manifest the desires of his heart.
  • I think the problem with this article is the leap at saying since the populous has technology it can obtain the knowledge to make informed decisons (and therefore fascism cannot take hold).

    Of course things we have seen in the last decade has proven that false: the 90's being the most prolific era of post 1945 National Socialism and the rise of a-political Islamic terrorism is only now coming to light.

    Both of these groups use technology to find each other. In the midst of it, they plan the "free world"'s downfall. Neither of these groups have been enlightened by the information superhighway. Instead they've used it to become more hardened, fanatical, and closed off. Hell, why go out and make friends with your new Indian neighbors when you can go online and bitch about the smell of kuri and plot their death with like minded e-fanatics (sorry Katz, I got to that one first)?

    Some of the WTC terrorist were known to have visited porno stores. Did that stop them ("Man, the only thing I would kill for now would be another moneyshot of Jenna Jameson!")?

    Ok, Capitalism and democracy have proven capable of toppling intellectual systems (e.g. we killed the USSR with Big Macs and Levis). But reactionary fear militants? That has only grown stronger. According to this article, using the world wide web to look up articles on the Church of the Creator or intelligent design is a contradiction. Of course it isn't.

    The most popular use of the WWW is porno. The second most popular is paranoia.
  • by Wesley Everest ( 446824 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:39PM (#3904486)
    He wasn't writing about technology leading to totalitarianism. He was writing about the growth of totalitarianism with technology being just part of the picture.

    It's especially crazy that they would write now about how mistaken Orwell was. Last year, it might have made some sense, but now... Nearly every day I hear about more and more moves by the U.S. government to loosen restrictions on police to spy on U.S. citizens []. Also, there's talk about an American Empire [] -- how the U.S. government should rightly rule over the rest of the world, and from "mainstream" intellectuals rather than extremists.

    The fact that the U.S. government is using technology to move towards totalitarianism does not mean that technology is the important ingredient. And, of course, the fact that many Americans are responding to the propaganda they're being innundated with by calling for more security doesn't suggest the absence of totalitarianism. When the Reichstag burned, most Germans were scared and were willing to give up some of their liberty for some more security. Totalitarianism only works when the people ask for it.

    The problem, though, is that there's a sort of event-horizon with liberty. There's a point beyond which you have little room for resisting. And it's possible for most people to cross it without noticing. As long as nobody is shooting at you or otherwise interfering in your life, you might not notice that some of the most effective means for radically changing government have been eliminated, and that suppression of dissidents has become so efficient and effective that effective dissent becomes impossible. When you start to see the darker side of the "security" you asked for, you find that there's no turning back. In Germany, it took the destruction of the country and the deaths of millions to unseat Hitler.

    Fortunately things aren't so stark as that. Supressing dissidents is never easy, and human ingenuity has a way of somtimes finding ways around "insurmountable" problems. But I think the event-horizon analogy is appropriate, because it doesn't take large scale repression to protect power and stifle resistance. There is a point where resistance and chance of success become much more difficult, and you can easily pass that point without noticing.

  • by Ironpoint ( 463916 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:43PM (#3904523)
    The article seems to view Western democracy as the antithesis of totalitarianism. The fact is that anyone can start a web page and say any number of things that will get them interrogated, watched, arrested, or shipped off to camp X-ray without your lawyer. Really, just start a site claiming to be an Al Queda operative, post some bluprints of a government building.

    The article seems to take the argument that "look how much better we are than 1950" But in reality, has freedom and privacy increased since 1970, 1980, or 1990? Sure we can exchange information easier.

    And the quip about democracy spreading between 1989 and 1991 makes me think about what life has been like in the former Soviet union since that time. It seems to me war, strife, and poverty are the most prevailent things that have spread in the region. And what about organized crime?

    No one can honestly claim that western democracy is the epitome of a perfect free and private society. The system is not perfect, but only works most of the time. Innocent people are put to death or jailed for decades. Cops abuse wiretap all the time.

    And last time I checked there is still a totalitarian regime in place in China despite faxes and the internet. According to this paper we should be flooding Iraq, Cuba, Iran, etc with technology to liberate it from their dictatorship. And look at Japan, despite being one of the most high tech places on the planet, is still occupied by the country that conquered it over 50 years ago.

    Short wave radios may have carried the news, but that doesn't mean anything if it only carries CNN or better yet, Army PsyOps officers. Guess who has an office within the CNN offices? one man's radio free whatever is another's war propaganda.

    The author seems to agree that Hitler was able to use radio to spread propaganda to millions, while saying that Orwell was mistaken in thinking that radio would be used for propaganda. Huh?, we sent PsyOps to every warzone we've been in to spread propaganda.

    He also makes the statement that Orwell was mistaken about governments using technology for surveillance. Remeber that 747 the US sold to Chinese premier with something like 200 listening devices installed in it. What exactly is Carnivore if not using technology for surveillance on the populace. And thats just the one we know about. In fact now corporations have more ability to spy on us than ever. Employee routinely look up private information for "fun", as do cops. IsP Technicians have packet sniffers running at all times and can look up what page your computer is surfing at any time, and they log the stuff. Any bank employee can get your credit info at any time.

    (call up your ISP and tell them that you can't connect to your web page, ask them to watch for the connection to find the problem. Ohh, How'd they do that?!?)

    This article is very Jingoistic. It claims that its only 1984ish if someone besides Western contries does it. Since our democracy is infallible and perfect.
  • Come on, people (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nenya ( 557317 )
    I suppose it's unsurprising given the audience, but I note a disturbing phenomenon in both the author of the article in question and the bulk of the respondents here on /. Do all of you really think that increases in technology and easier access to information really solve any problems worth solving? Today's kids have access to just about everything that has ever been written, yet now many high school students who can barely read are graduated every year? Technology, including physical, social, political, and educational technologies, have advanced to levels never before seen, yet I doubt that we are happier or more productive than any of the ancients.

    Orwell was wrong, but unfortunately it seems that Big Brother was an optimist. In his scenario, at least someone was in control, whether it was a single individual or group of individuals. Today it seems that something worse has happened. Technology has advanced to the point where no one is in control. It advances at its own pell-mell pace, with no clear direction or goal other than its own advancement. Instead of technology advancing to the point where society is controlled by an oppressive government that uses technology to its own advantage, we are under the sway of a Pandora's Box let loose: now our technology controls us.

    We devote trillions of dollars into technological devices and research every year, and for what purpose? Simply to advance technology. Why do this? What end is accomplished? Easier access to information? People, information can't get much easier to access. If a novel-length work takes up less than 2 megs, you can probably store everything that has ever been written on two hard drives. We don't need more technology. We need a more responsible attitude towards technology before technology progresses to the point where we really can't control it. I don't mean AI horror scenario's either: I view those as impossible. I'm talking about progressing to the point where new technologies are introduced and adopted simply because they are new, without any consideration given to side effects upon both existing technologies and the human condition in general.

    Just something to think about.
  • I know this is a bit off-topic, but if you want to get a better view of Orwell's real political stance, I have something for you.

    One of Orwell's lesser known works was an essay called "The Lion and the Unicorn" (1941). I really recommend it for anyone who wants to know what Orwell really did think government should be like.

    Reading this essay was one of the key turning points for me in my acceptance of democratic socialism. It presents an excellent vision of how Orwell thought Britain should re-form itself after the War. Indeed, the first Government after the War was a socialist-leaning Labour one which enacted some of the ideas that Orwell championed.

    Now if only Henry A. Wallace had been VP when FDR died, we might have gotten some of the same reforms in the U.S. (National Health Service, etc.), not to mention avoided the intensity of the McCarthy era....
  • And see the public areas crammed full of cameras monitoring the activities of its subjects - all in the name of crime prevention. It's in name only since England is now the crime capital of Western Europe. Of course, their despot government will use crime as an excuse to further erode what few liberties British Subjects enjoy.
  • by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:46PM (#3904545)
    Well, long term at least. The printing press made cheap paper useful, and that encouraged and enabled literacy, and the main government of the day, the Roman Church, could no longer keep the actual Bible contents secret. The result was a decentralizing of power from Rome to individual nation states. It has continued to decentralize into smaller and smaller communities. The spread of information robs those in power of their control over information, which makes it that much harder to steer things their way. The US had 3 national networks for a long time, but cable brought in more, and now the US gov can't control news as easily as it used to. The cheap computer was the next step, first bulletin boards and now the internet.

    Sure there are wobbles in the trend towards "information wants to be free", but the overall trend is unmistakeable and unstoppable: less centralized control of information means less centralized control of people.

    David Brin wrote a book, The Transparent Society (I think), which considered what will happen as webcams shrink. Neal Stephenson (sp?) wrote The Diamond Age along the same lines. Scott McNealy is right: privacy is dying, get used to it. It will hurt the powerful more than the poor. Look what cheap videocams did for police brutality in the Rodney King case. Now lots of cop cars have cameras, more for self protection against false claims than for evidence of crime or for TV ratings. Imagine what will happen when ordinary people have access to floating dust mite webcams, ten to the dollar. What would you rather watch on the internet spy cams: someone getting banged in a trailer in Kansas, or back room deals at the White House? Well, maybe individuals will watch the Kansas coupling, but the press and volunteer watchdogs will opt for the White House every time.
  • I remember to have read about this topic in a fascinating book by Peter Huber [], engineer, lawyer and insightful writer.

    The book is titled "Orwell's Revenge, The 1984 Palimpsest", and, amazingly, its text is freely available here [].

    Go ahead and read it (240 pages). Much better than the article.

  • What worries me? Do you know what worries me? It's the knowledge that there has been essentially 2 things that have kept the United States a democracy over the last 2 centuries:

    1) The United States military has not attempted to overthrow the government.

    2) If the military did overthrow the government, an armed and angry population would rise up against it.

    The military hasn't tried to overthrow the government because the majority of people in the military believe in the democratic system. What Orwell wrote about was that if despotic elements controlled information, they would control what people believe, military and civilian alike. But I pose you this question:

    What would prevent despotism from taking over if the military did not require human beings to function?

    I realize I'm looking ahead about 50 to 100 years, but who here has played Warcraft? Ok, now imagine Joe Despot is playing Warcraft, but his orcs are actually mobile semiautominous killing machines that are walking through your neighborhood, and he's observing the action from a secret base in Wisconsin. Are you going to revolt against him? Are you going to be able to fight for your constitutional rights with Mechadroid 19 pointing an assault rifle at your head? Remember what Clint Eastwood said in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, "There are two kinds of people in the world, those with guns, and those that dig."

  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:51PM (#3904588)

    ...but 2004 has me a bit worried.

    Eighteen years ago, the technology to bring us to something like Orwell wrote about wasn't quite there. Now it is -- or nearly is -- and we have reason to worry about Orwell's vision. (Though I'm not all that comfortable using the word ``vision'' as it normally connotates something a lot more positive than what we could get if we're not vigilant.)

    And, while I usually think highly of the articles I read in T.R., I have to disagree with this one. First, because I think the author doesn't look deeply enough into those technological advances that he says are liberating. The average citizen may be the first to adopt these new devices but when government takes notice and starts implementing systems or programs around them watch out. For example, small/inexpensive cameras were a boon to ordinary people when it allowed them to monitor their front door or the baby sitter that might be abusing their kids. Now the government is taking more pictures and videos than they can possibly analyze; so many that they now want to use computer systems to scan them to look for certain individuals. How many times was your picture taken today?

    Second, look at the top of the T.R. column. ``Technology for Presidents''. Hah, no wonder the tone of the article seemed like nothing more than happy talk. Yep, just go on with all your homeland defense measures. And don't worry about those folks that warn their Orwellian implications. They don't count if it's Democracy(tm) that employs those measures.

    Third, he screwed up about the GPS receivers being used in Desert Storm being available at Radio Shack. That might be true today but it wasn't back during Desert Storm. There were commercial C/A-only GPS receivers available back then but they were mostly marine units and weren't the sort of thing that you'd want to be shlepping around the desert. There were some handheld LORAN receivers available back then (maybe at Radio Shack, I can't remember) which came in handy as the Arabian peninsula and surrounding areas had very good LORAN-C coverage. I heard stories of soldiers -- when they found that they'd be advancing across the desert -- asking their wives to run down to the PX to buy one and have it shipped via ASAFP Express to their spouse. All those oil tankers had to use something to stay inside the lines and if it was good enough for them, it ought get you across the desert without too much trouble. Crimeny, where'd he get his facts.

    Overall, I give the article a thumbs down.

  • Is anyone else frightened by the Sourceforge ads constantly running on Slashdot?

    You know, the ones that basically promise to keep your developers in line through increased task monitoring? I'm all for source code control, bug tracking, etc, but the crux of these ads seem to be "your developers (especially those overseas ones..foreign bastards!) are probably fucking off, why not monitor them with Sourceforge?"....

    Some even directly use the "unblinking eye" motif!

    Who is the advertising genius that came up with that shit?

  • by e2d2 ( 115622 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:55PM (#3904621)
    I always thought Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 hit a little more closer to the target - A society of the future self enslaved through political correctness, the need to conform, and technology enabled diversions from real life.

    I don't think the pledge of allegiance is right so we should ban it. The money in the US says "under god" and that offends my atheist beliefs, remove it! I think having homo sex is ok and I'm gonna cram it down your throat MTV style to make sure you know it's ok. I don't think we should target young muslims at the airport as potential terrorists because that would be racist. We should check grandma in the wheelchair instead to show that we are "being fair".

    Watch your neighbor! They may be terrorists. Children, do your parents smoke an occasional joint? They are contributing to terrorists! Turn them in. Everyone watching for the inevitable attack by evil doers.

    Self enslaved by our willingness to finance any and every shiny bubble that comes along this week. Working check to check to support our conformity. TV, radio, Internet, Mp3 players, walkman, car stereo, cd player, dvd in the SUV, movies, shiny clothes, and $4 quad-frapaccinno lattes laced with happiness prozac pills all working to remove you from reality. Citizen! look up here at these shiny bubbles! Now insert your debit card to see more.

  • by ftobin ( 48814 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @04:57PM (#3904638) Homepage

    There are two things, closely related, that could can cause the 1984-style world. One of them, as the article correctly pointed out, would be if technology was too expensive to be within reach of the common citizen; having this would make it so that only large, wealthy organizations such as the government could get their hands on the stuff. This, it seems, we don't have to worry about too much; the free-market Western philosophies seem have to helped keep prices down.

    The second, more ominous road to 1984 is centralization. The more things become centralized, the fewer powerful entities are needed to collude and walk us down that road. For the most part, so far, this hasn't been a worry, because we have many competing manufacturers of technology, few large multi-state-government cooperations, and a significant, dispersed group of well-educated, free-thinking geeks.

    However, with the collapsing of information technology into a couple of roles (you're well out of the norm if you use the internet for anything than HTTP, HTTPS, POP, IMAP, and SMTP over their standard ports), it becomes easy to pass broad, encompassing laws which attempt to lay control over these few avenues. Even the fact that there is one Internet which everyone is expected to be connected to helps make it easier for many software companies to centrally control their dispersed, previously independent products, by having them talk back to central command in real-time (for operations such as registration, remote-disabling, etc). Furthermore, we have single-authority systems such as DNS, overruled by ICANN, providing another source of woes.

    In order to be stalwart against falling down this trap, controlled technological homogeny needs to be resisted, and diverse, competing, preferably open technologies (because they promote diversity and competition by their very nature) need to be promoted. What does this mean practically? In the software world, for instance, it means de-facto assumptions such as everyone having MS Word and Windows. It also means resisting efforts that approach the idea of allowing someone to control, from production to consumer sensory inputs, every step of a media feed.

    So yes, it's been quite nice so far, and looking at it the right way, you might think it's going to stay that way. But growing centralization and the existance of large, power, multi-national corporations and corporation-conglomerates makes me wonder if it's really going to be that rosy if we just lean back put our feet up.

    For more information, I recommend reading Lawrence Lessig's excellent "The Future of Ideas".

  • Eric Blair (Orwell's true name) went wrong when he attributed the power-grabbing to the state.

    It is the bourgeois, embodied in their croporations, who are working hard to anihilate the very freedoms citizens take for granted.

  • by Lawmeister ( 201552 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @05:37PM (#3904891) Homepage
    it's all right there in the US government's own site: []

    "The program will involve the millions of American workers who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places."
    "Operation TIPS will be phased in across the country to enable the system to build its capacity to receive an increasing volume of tips."

    I'm so glad I live in Canada. Until the tanks roll across the border.... :(

  • Points to note (Score:5, Informative)

    by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @06:03PM (#3905040) Journal
    1. MIT has an interest in ensuring that people do not fear technology. Worst case scenario: a technophobic generation starts shunning the MITs of the world for agricultural colleges.

    2. Appending the MIT brand to someone's opinion doesn't necessarily mean the author is any more knowledgeable [] than the clerk at your local 7-eleven.

    3. The author is not an MIT professor of economics, political science, sociology, literature, comp-sci or any other subject that would qualify him as an authority on the subjects covered by 1984. He teaches astrogeophysics [] at Berkeley. He currently teaches a course called "Physics for future Presidents []" ["my goal is to cover the physics that future world leaders need to know (and maybe present world leaders too....)."] and is the author of a historical novel called "The Sins of Jesus []."

      The assumption that presidents need to understand physics (rather than employ well-informed experts as advisors on the subject) and the profession that Jesus used "magic and deception" to pose as the son of God (based on "historical facts and biblical references") makes me wary of his preaching.

  • by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @06:38PM (#3905240)
    1984 was written in 1948, and with his number flip he was writing about his own time as well as a future forecast. Remember that the world was divided into three territories, and all were under different, yet very similar systems. He was not just writing about the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, but the UK and United States, where in 1948, blacks in the South couldn't vote, couldn't marry white people, could only use "colored" facilities and so forth.

    The article says "we watched democracy and liberty spread (like a plague--to Communists) first through the Soviet satellites and then into the heart of the Soviet Union itself." This is a very simple-minded and naive view of Russia. Russians were able to vote since 1917 in elections - true for only one party, but in the US is there an alternative to the Republicrats? George Washington himself discouraged seperate political parties. Let's look at the "democratic and free" Russia now. One of the first things that happened was the Tsar was exhumed and given a state funeral - not a good sign. Then the socialist bureaucracy who controlled the means of production became the capitalists who controlled the means of production. Who are the new Russian rich? The old socialist bureaucracy! At least in the old system they didn't pass on their privilege generation to generation. Nowadays, an ex-KGB head runs Russia (Putin) and he's been censoring the press recently. Where's the uproar in the West? This MIT article is as much spoonfed propaganda as they had in the Soviet Union. It will only make sense if you're used to nodding and going along with "the party line". I live near a Russian ex-pat community, and they do not have these fantasies about how Russia magically went from a horrible evil empire in 1988 to a wonderful free democracy where everything is perfect by 1992, or 2002. I'll believe the people who've been there over this almost sickening propaganda and over-simplification. The reality is things were better (although with problems) than is implied before 1990, and are worse than explicitly said they are, after 1990. If any Slashdotter wants to find out about Russia, stop reading what people from MIT or the White House say and find a real, live person who lived in Russia during the 80's and 90's and ask them.

    Michael Harrington, a student of the poor in America, once said "If there is a technological advance without a social advance, there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery." I tend to agree with this position. Unlike decades ago, I have had to undergo the humiliation of a urine test multiple times in order to get a job so I can continue eating and have a roof over my head. I even had to be fingerprinted with the fingerprints sent to the FBI twice - once for a city job, once for a financial job. Every street I walk down has security cameras gazing at me, and every store I walk into has security gates that electromagnetically scan me. My communications over the phone and over the Internet are open to a variety of monitoring, this has always been the case with my international communications, with the PATRIOT act it means virtually anything.

    1984 has come to pass, and like in the book, they are continually refining the technique. If people sit around and just let it happen, it will get worse and worse. The only solution is to organize and fight it. CPSR and EFF help fight some of this technological encroachment, and there are other groups that fight other technological encroachment - NORML for urine tests (the Supreme court just ruled public schools can test students in any extracurricular activity, sports or no, for drugs) and many other groups. The only way these things get better by is by organizing together and doing something about it. There are no big victories, big changes are always just the accumulation of many small victories. Like-minded people organizing together to fight for the democracy and liberty as the article said are the only means of achieveing real liberty and democracy, one step at a time.
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @06:49PM (#3905299)
    It seems to me that most people miss the biggest (yet veiled) point in 1984. Orwell was against organized religion, thats who the bad guys really were. Yes its about power, but not technological power. Its about mind control. Mind control of the type the Church has. Look in the book and you will see they convince their captors that 2+2=5 *and* that god is powerful.
  • by asreal ( 177335 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @07:11PM (#3905412)
    When 1984 was written, Orwell couldn't invision any form of social control that was not ideological control. After all, if you couldn't control people's ideas and keep them from thinking politically, they would revolt against their oppressors!

    Since 1948, however, a new form of social control has emerged. Some of you may recognize the name. It's called capitalism. The illusion of choice created by being able to choose from 25 kinds of peanut butter and 500 cable channels is a far more effective way of quelling revolt than systematically cutting down political oppostion. But political oppostion has been cut down all the same.

    The capitalist system has so deeply entrenched itself that two things have occurred. First, those who suggest that there should be alternatives for everyone are labelled as "Commies" or "Dirty Hippies" and largely ignored. So, collective oppostion is nearly impossible. Secondly, it is next to impossible for a person (at least someone in a G8/G7 nation) to live outside of the capitalist system. Self-sufficient farming requires land, which requires property tax, which requires income. If you sell your product to pay your taxes, you cannot be self-sufficient but turn into a for-profit farmer. Vicious circle.

    Orwell wasn't as wrong as the article would have us believe. Technology as used by the capitalist system did enable social control, but not in the way Orwell thought.


  • by MattTC ( 45020 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2002 @10:20PM (#3906138) Homepage
    Everyone who is really interested in how technology affects personal freedom should really read the following book.

    The Mode of Information [] By Mark Poster

    The chapter on Foucault and Databases is the one that has struck me as the most telling on the subject of personal liberties.

    The key concept is that of the Super-Panopticon. The Panopticon is a design for a prison. The prison is designed as an octagonal tower. The cells are all along the inside surface of the tower, guard posts in the center. Each cell is equipped with one-way glass allowing the guards to see in, but not allowing the prisoners to see out. Prisoner behavior is therefore controlled by the knowledge that they may be observed at any time without knowing whether they are being observed.

    Poster points out that the information collected about each person in the high-tech age is all put into databases. Where they shop, what they buy, what books they read, what movies they see, what sites they surf on the web, etc, etc. The fact that all this information is available to the State if the State chooses to access it.

    Thus, like the panopticon-prison, control is exerted by the State as each citizen knows that the information can be accessed but does not know if it is being accessed.

    This is how totalitarianism creeps in thru today's technology. The Super-Panopticon is a passive control system for the masses, made possible by the availability of stored personal information.

    In 1984 Orwell writes that one never knew if there was anyone watching at the other end of the telescreen, but it was always advisable to act as if there were.

    Today the telescreen is invisible, but no less there for all of that. The original totalitarian states may be gone, but today's quasi-representative governments have gained the means to impose their own kind of control.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll