Monday, 21 January 2013

Winston Smith would be spinning in his grave were he not fictional.

I remember way back in the late 80s/early 90s or whenever it was I read it, my young outrage at the awful world Winston Smith had to endure in 1984. Oh, I read Brave New World as well, but to be fair, Huxley's view of a world where babies all get brought up in factories, and sex is a mandatory recreational activity rather appealed to a teenage lad, still does a bit. As an impossibly earnest and principled 12/13 year old however, the very idea of having one's every move watched and scrutinised by a totalitarian regime horrified me. How ironic that since then, Big Brother has become somebody that we all want to be watched by, and we broadcast every single thing we do to the entire world with no mind for the consequences.
Well, not all of us. Most of us do though, admit it.
In the near quarter century since I read that book for the first time, the world I inhabit has slowly drifted closer and closer towards Winston's.
I remember being particularly shocked by the hidden cameras and microphones that he encountered on his little trip out to the countryside, the idea of this all pervading spy network went against every idea of personal freedom I had ever believed in. And then within 3 or 4 years of my first reading of 1984, they put cameras up in all the little places we used to go and hide out in to do the things you don't want to get caught doing when you're a teenager (or an adult in fact). After a while, we got used to that and moved on. There are always more places to hide if you want them, and your home is always a sanctuary (hopefully, but who knows what's coming down the track).
Then the world wide web appeared, and hope rose in us all. A place where the underground could meet, and speak frankly without fear. We could hide behind screen names and be whoever we wanted. Those of us who were particularly paranoid could hide behind as many fake IP addresses as we could generate. A lawless outland where freedom of speech could finally be achieved properly. And then the normal people came. And we sat on the usenet forums and laughed at them, they couldn't even flush their own DNS caches. They had no idea what LOL meant, they used Internet Explorer (they still do).
The normal people began to take offence at this happy outland, and demanded legislation, and we've all seen where this has finally led, ridiculous lawsuits over jokes on twitter, and a society too paranoid to even type the word “child” into google in case the thought police come and break down your door. Then they demanded easier ways to connect with the people they already knew, and along came facebook. Then they demanded easier ways to connect with people they didn't know, but had read about in the papers, and Twitter was born. The internet had now become a copy of hello magazine, crossed with the queue at tescos. Gossipy and annoying. Luckily the web is big enough for all of us, and if you don't want to join in you can tell facebook et al to go fuck itself and stay on 4chan, b3ta or the old usenet forums are still there I believe.
Thing is though, facebook and twitter are fun, you can talk to people you do know, you can have a good old rant and know that people are reading. You can show them your lunch, and at least one of them will “like” it. Occasionally somebody you have read about in the papers will grudgiingly reply to your tweet, or even retweet you. I have no idea why, but now we have to “share and enjoy” every last little thing. The party have won. Welcome to INGSOC. We are deliberately delivering them all the information they need to hang us all. I am well aware that this is an exaggeration.
If the teenage lad who was so horrified by the information networks of Orwell's nightmare could see the stuff I share with the entire world, I like to think he'd punch me in the face and make me stop. I'm not going to though, because I'm 35 now, and I'm well aware that the mythical “they” could find out all this trivial crap all by themselves. As my friends/family would be plastering it all over the web for me. Or because they can read our minds (not mine, I've got a special hat).
Winston Smith deliberately hid from the telescreen in his apartment, so that he could have a moment of privacy, and hated it's noisy intrusions into his life. I and, in fact, most of us now have telescreens in every room in the house, and we're now paying extra so we can get ones with cameras in to watch us, just like Winston's did for him. The tiniest most insignificant details of our lives are now writ large upon the universe for all to see, thanks to the miracle of social networking, encouraging us all to believe in our own self-importance.
Scrolling down a twitter feed, I am often reminded of a 3 year old who continually feels the need to inform his parents of his every move. You know the ones, “Mummy, I'm going for a wee now”, “Mummy, I'm walking down the stairs” etc. etc. the equivalent of posting a picture of your lunch on twitter/facebook. Except that sadly the internet will not eventually snap like an overworked mother and tell it's errant children to shut the fuck up. Are the social networking generation the children who's mother's never snapped? The overindulged ones (you remember them from school, they got to come in in trainers, or wearing a bucket on their heads in extreme cases) who can do no wrong, and will always be mummy's little angel? Nope, cos I know people who do this, and I know their mothers, and this is not the root cause at all.
I have no idea why it happens, just that it does, and I am unable to stop, even though I know I should. Must be like the fags then, can't seem to give those up either. Although I did prefer it when people were too scared to put pictures of their kids up on the internet for fear of old men wanking over them (is that a joke too far?)

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