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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Read in 2014



I rarely read fiction, although 1/6 of the books I read last year perhaps show my reading preference is becoming more flexible. However, of the fiction I have read, most of the titles I have turned to because of a reference to them from a non-fiction title. Nineteen Eighty Four had been referred to once or twice in the books I had read on Cold War espionage and eavesdropping governments, and is perhaps increasingly referred to in conversations about our "Big Brother" society and the "Edward Snowdon revelations" - things that already interest me.

This book, Orwell's last, was published in 1949/50, and he had set it in the dystopic future of 1984, I suppose with idea of how the Cold War conflicts could pan out or how global superpowers could form next. Reading it now in 2014, one does so from a perspective of how things could have panned out, while also, chillingly, how things perhaps are. I say he wrote it in a dystopic future, but that description is perhaps a matter of perspective and with hindsight - maybe it was simply a predicted future for him, I don't know - I have not looked into any conversations he may have had about his intentions at the time.

Whenever writers create a world in a not so distant future, they do so at a risk - a risk that what they portray won't happen. When you read such a book at the time it was written all is well and good, but should what they have written remain in popular culture through to the time period in which the tale was set, then things can fall apart. This happens in both books and films and I'm thinking of the likes of Back to the Future which was created in the 1980s but had its second part set in 2013. In that world there are awesome things like hoverboards and hover cars, neither of which have really come about, along with some strange fashions. Back to the Future has a benefit I think, because it is a story based on time travel, and within that story is the feature of an "alternate reality" - the way I explain the lack of hovercars/boards today while keeping the story real in my head (which surely we all like to do) is to imagine that the characters in their small region of the United States, affected the time line in such a way that those technologies never came about - a feature of the Butterfly Effect if you will.

Obviously we didn't pass through a period of Orwell's world, like-for-like, back in 1984, but it's not hard to see similarities/or imagine them, here and there. In Orwell's world there are "telescreens" all over the place for example - television-like devices that are capable of not only displaying content, but also recording the world and people in front of it too. I imagined these telescreens to be just like the flat-screen TVs that we have today, but didn't exist for us in 1984. With the simple inclusion of a webcam and microphone, Orwell's telescreen is chillingly comparable to a mashup between a TV and any number of devices we use today that have webcams built in to them; laptops, tablets and phones.

With Orwell's "Big Brother" watching everyone's every move through his telescreen technology and hidden microphones (we have CCTV), it makes me accept just how close we really are to be living in such a way as Orwell's characters. In Orwell's tale the people just accept the way things are, they actually have no choice, in fact they have essentially been brainwashed/conditioned to live like this. In our world we likely believe we have a choice, or that we chose "this", but the book makes you question (if you didn't already) this: Do we really have a choice about how we live or are we all brainwashed/conditioned too?

Fast forward Orwell's book from 1984 to 2014 and, because of how the people are controlled, I can't imagine his 2014 to have progressed technologically since 1984 - there would have been no need for it, and no drive for such "progress". For this reason we are perhaps at liberty to compare Orwell's 1984 to our 2014, or any future date - the year being irrelevant, you can cast it mentally aside.

In our 2014 we choose to share our lives, our thoughts and experiences, through pictures and words via our "telescreens", through the likes of Facebooks and Twitters. Some of us feel like this is a choice we have, even a freedom to do this, and "how wonderful it is", but is it really a choice? Is it freedom? Is it wonderful? I was born into a world without the internet - I have the experience of computers creeping into our homes and those computers being connected to the internet and other devices taking the place of those early ones - it is the way things have developed, one step at a time until we are in the "situation" that we are in now: our likes and dislikes, buying habits, diets, all manner of things, logged somewhere, waiting to be mulled over by a Big Brother. The situation we are in now wasn't actually a simple one-off choice or decision we made back then, they're all developments and encroachments, some reasonably gradual, a subtlety that leaves us barely able to react/respond/object.

The main character in the book is Winston. He becomes aware of how things are, as Neo became aware of The Matrix he was in in the film of the same name (surely others have made this comparison). Winston acquired a book which explained how things had developed, a history, well, a real one because his had been shaped to suit 'the cause"- as he reads it it is like he is reading the Bible. It gets explained that Winston already knew about the "how" things had come to be, just like I (and perhaps many readers) feel aware of the "how", but just as Winston is about to read on and learn and reveal to us the "why" things are the way they are, he stops reading.

Some of the explanations are fed to the reader throughout the book, such as the existence of the class system, but shortly after Winston starts reading his book he is arrested and his captor discusses with him the contents of that book, and has the "why" explained. Basically, the class system is all important, with those at the top of the pyramid being the ones controlling those below. Sometimes it feels like that is how our world works. Orwell tries to explain that what those Elite at the top want from us is power (in The Matrix this is portrayed as electrical power, but in hind sight one should perhaps not take it so literal). In our world I'm torn between the idea of there being some ulterior motive by those at the top (who's to say those that think they are at the top are not being controlled by something above them), and everything just being the way it is through human nature, or "mother nature" - everyone (or everything) affecting each other, often subtly, sometimes not so, like fluctuations of influence that ripple all the way through societies and "class systems". Perhaps these ripples are within, what can described as, a field of influence, or the "Akashic Field". Some might say that it is the guiding hand of one being, a God, that is what is guiding us, by some divine plan, to some end point - I have no issues with describing "this" as God, but to me it feels like we are just bubbling along, as everything does, there is no "external" influence, God is not without, "it" is within, within the very field we and everything is part of.

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