7 sinister technologies from Orwell’s 1984 that are still a threat

1. The Telescreen Evolved

In 1984’s Future: The resemblance between the flat panels of today and the telescreens of Orwell’s story are obvious. The telescreens in 1984 were bi-directional, meaning they sent and received images, pushing propaganda while acting as a security camera in every living room. They also couldn’t be shut off, so the telescreen might bear a closer resemblance to a home PC, which many people always leave on.

In Today’s Reality: Today’s televisions aren’t actively spying on us (at least, we don’t think so), but every laptop and most computer monitors have built-in webcams, and future 3D televisions may even keep track of where your eyes are looking to deliver the best picture possible. That data would also be useful to advertisers, who would then be able to calculate what areas of the screen are more valuable than others, and what ads were most engaging. There’s also Microsoft’s Kinect, which could go so far as to read your body language to gauge how you’re feeling.


2. Big Brother Is Still Watching You

In 1984’s Future: From every square and alley, the signs and propaganda for Big Brother bombard you in much the same way advertising does today. Two-way telescreens exist in every room. They’re at work, at home and on the streets.

In Today’s Reality: We live in a world that is almost completely under surveillance of one kind or another. Whether we speak about the CCTV system on every corner in the U.K., or the cameras in the Target parking lot, we have accepted these cameras for our protection. Remember that the protection comes at the interpretation of whoever is viewing these images. Ideally, trading privacy for security doesn’t come at the cost of freedom.

Of course, having a human interpret and look through all of this video data would be a time consuming at best and impossible at worst. If you were trying to find a specific person, or track and record movements for review, it would take some doing. That’s where some advanced facial recognition software comes in, and it could be used to keep a database of an individual’s movements without a manual effort.

Consider: Where are you not under some type of surveillance? You’re out of sight in some rooms of your home, right? Do you have your cellphone on your hip? If so, then someone knows where you are. Can they hear you? No? Are you sure? That’s okay. You already tweeted and updated your Facebook status as to where you are. It’s easy to dismiss the idea that someone is watching, but maybe they are.

Remember, our 2012 “Big Brother” doesn’t have to be the government. It can just as often be corporations.

3. The Dream Police

In 1984’s Future: In Orwell’s world, anyone could be a member of the Thought Police. A friendly old store-keeper, a neighbor’s child or a co-worker could be a member of this network that examines your behavior. Since the network could be literally anyone, you suspect everyone — and everyone suspects you.

In Today’s Reality: Researchers have been refining a recent discovery that enables them to extract images from a subject’s mind. The latest news on that front is a procedure which allows us to “hear” a person’s internal monologue.

The positive medical implications for this technology are enormous. People with diseases that impede motor coordination or any other disorder that affects speech may finally have a coherent voice.

Yet in a world with cameras everywhere, a person’s thoughts may be the last refuge for privacy. We need to ensure this kind of technology is used responsibly.

Consider: If you think the above technology seems far in the future or too removed to be implemented in a threatening way any time soon, consider that we have technology that can follow your eye movements and reactions to media. On the one hand it’d provide you with a new way to interface with technology; on the other, the data mined from your eye movements would be very valuable to advertisers.go

4. New Newspeak (Or, Sprain Your Thumb for Freedom)

In 1984’s Future: In Orwell’s world, the government was whittling down English to a more “efficient” version called Newspeak. Words such as “wonderful” and “splendid” were replaced with “plus good” or “double plus good.” Newspeak was used in 1984 to control history.

In Today’s Reality: While texting as a language clearly came about to save our thumbs work, we need to be careful that our communication doesn’t lose its richness (or accuracy). In 1984, Orwell demonstrated that you can eliminate whole concepts (such as freedom) by not having a word for it.

While the language of texting isn’t quite as nefarious as that, it does remove some of the humanity from communication. When writing documentation on technology, for instance, it’s important to be precise and to the point. What makes a site like DVICE fun is a bit of whimsy and geek-culture humor. How interesting would it be if everything read like a UNIX manual or worse, no pronouns or vowels?

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