4 things George Orwell got right about society today

Over 70 years ago, novelist George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) set off to the remote Scottish island of Jura in search of solitude, peace, and much-needed quiet. 

Somewhere “un-get-atable.” 

There, in an unassuming white-washed cottage, tucked away in the Inner Hebrides, he sat behind his trusty typewriter and penned his final book – 1984. 

Arguably his greatest (and most famous) work. 

Completely isolated and surrounded by nothing but rolling hills, grasslands, and (maybe) the odd roaming deer, he wrote of a technologically advanced dystopian future that seemed worlds apart from reality.

At least at the time. 

Now, in the 21st century, it reads more like a cautionary tale than a work of science fiction. And much like a Black Mirror episode, there are many parallels between the present-day and his prophetic scribblings. 

The universal term “Orwellian” didn’t appear from nowhere, after all.

With that in mind, here are four things George Orwell got right about society today.

Ready for some red pill takes? Here we go!

1) “Big Brother Is Watching You”

You’ve probably heard of “Big Brother” before. 

If not, it’s a lot like the reality game show of the same name. Only, in George Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future, “Big Brother” is actually the leader of the fictional totalitarian superstate. 

And unlike the TV program, no one signed up to be surveilled 24 hours a day. 

No, it’s forced upon them. 

There isn’t even a big money prize at the end of it. Gasp! And there’s a lot less drunken shenanigans.

Instead, it’s a stark reminder to keep in line – or else. 

So how does that relate to today? Let me explain.

These days, cameras are everywhere – they’re omnipresent and increasingly pervasive. Some are hidden, while others are in plain sight. 

For example, CCTV.

You name it – cash points, public transportation, elevators, lobbies, sidewalks, traffic lights, and even vacation rentals contain some form of covert surveillance. 

And they’re all there “for our safety.” 

Then there are wifi-enabled doorbells, bodycams, and well, you get the picture. There are too many to list here – it’s scary. 

Simply put – you can’t walk out of your house these days without being secretly filmed. 

What’s more, facial recognition has been used by some governments to name and shame offenders in crowds. 

Not forgetting how the threat of terrorism allowed agencies like the NSA (and others) to invade our privacy within our own homes.

The thing is, we don’t even question it.

But it doesn’t stop at mass surveillance…

2) “Telescreens”

In his book 1984, George Orwell depicts a fictional tyrannical regime (Oceania) that uses fear to rule and manipulate

Basically, a way to modify and control the behavior of its citizens on a massive scale. With the systematic “vaporization” of people who dare to disobey.

How? Well, through two-way television, of course. 

Referred to as “telescreens,” these dull, mirror-like displays were used to broadcast video, speeches, and news to the citizens of Oceania. 

In other words – party propaganda.

But there was no on or off switch. Instead, they could only be dimmed. The reason for this? They were used by the “thought police” (Thinkpol) to listen in and spy on their constituents.  

“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously.” Fundamentally, it could both listen and watch anyone within its field of vision.

But that’s not true for us, is it? 

Well, think about it.

Nowadays, every home has some sort of smart device. Be it smart TVs, smartphones, virtual assistants (e.g. Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Siri), smartwatches, smart doorbells – the list goes on. 

They all have one thing in common – voice recognition.

According to reports, some of these smart devices may be listening to you. Even your light bulbs can be used to eavesdrop.

And if they’re not listening to you, they’re constantly collecting user data for “behavioral advertising.” 

3) “Speakwrite”

The book 1984 is full of hi-tech gadgets (at least by 1940s standards). Some are a little out there, while others aren’t too dissimilar to what we have today. 

And this includes “Speakwrite.”

At the Ministry of Truth, Winston (the protagonist) uses this device to convert speech into text onto his telescreen. In fact, he’s so used to this way of note-taking, that physical writing seemed foreign to him. 

He only ever used pen and paper to write in his secret diary. 

Ultimately, the aim of “Speakwrite,” was to limit creative output and control the masses. 

But today, in the real world, voice commands and transcription devices are there to make life easier for us – enabling more freedom in the process.

However, just like the sci-fi novel, using transcription apps and virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant is commonplace. 

Even my 70-year-old dad uses his voice to reply to messages on WhatsApp. 

And if I really wanted to, I could write this entire article without having to touch my keyboard. Who knows, maybe, I even did. 

But thankfully, as I’m not under Big Brother’s watchful gaze, that’s for me to know – and no one else.

4) “Newspeak” and “Doublethink”

Other means of control in 1984 were “Newspeak” and “Doublethink.” This together with historical revisionism, was used to promote Big Brother’s ideologies and prevent “Thoughtcrime.”

Don’t even get me started on the use of the “Prolefeed” and “Two Minutes Hate.”

But what do these terms mean? 

First, let’s take a look at “Newspeak.” 

This fictional language replaced “Oldspeak” (Standard English). Filled with simplified and restricted vocabulary, it was created by the ruling forces to reduce unnecessary words and syllables by combining them. 

The idea was to make “all other modes of thought impossible.” In short, limit freethought. Effectively, eradicating anything that went against their interests. 

And it doesn’t stop there.

In the same way, “Doublethink” is used to control and confuse the public in an effort to avoid thoughts of rebellion. 

In essence, it’s where two contradictory opinions cancel each other out – pitting logic against logic to manipulate others. 

Some examples of “Doublethink” include: “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.” All of which were party slogans in the book. 

But how is that relevant today?

Good question. 

Well, in the age of Fake News, this use of language manipulation is very much alive and well. 

Look hard enough and you’ll find instances of the media and politicians manipulating or selectively presenting historical facts and events to support a particular narrative.

But don’t take my word for it.

Take a look at your X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, or Facebook feed. It’s full of bots and wannabe influencers actively spreading false news and misinformation to suit a specific agenda. 

And it’s not limited to social media. 

Just take the Trump administration for instance and their use of “alternative facts”. Or Boris Johnson and his Brexit campaign.

Even mainstream news channels are at it.

Because of this, nothing can be taken at face value. We have to do our research. But when there are two sides saying the complete opposite, it can be difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. 

They cancel each other out just like how George Orwell describes “Doublethink” in 1984.

Leila El-Dean

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

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