1984 and Modern

(This served as my term paper for my floating subject GREATWK. Of course, the issues discussed here are not complete.)

Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel written by George Orwell in 1949, is a story that revolves around Winston Smith, the protagonist of the story, and his conflicts with the Inner Party, Big Brother, and the society itself in a dystopian world. The world of 1984 is a world of war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system named English Socialism or Ingsoc under the Inner Party.  Different kinds of social issues rose under the elites which still can be seen in the modern times.

The telescreen, a device present in the story, is a government distributed machine that acts as a surveillance camera. It cannot be turned off nor misplace. It monitors every movement and every word spoken by every member of the society. The Thought Police governs this mandate and they observe the people twenty-four hours. This is to prevent the people from breaking the law – such as the act of writing on a diary, reading a single document for too long, and even sex. This kind of treatment can be compared to today’s issues. This includes the FBI surveillance and the latest NSA’s plan to monitor every data that will be processed in the internet. Companies and corporations collecting data on consumers is another example. This act may seem harmless, however, little the consumers know that their personal data (home address, cellphone numbers, e-mail address, and such) are being used by these companies for their own profit. A good example of this is the community website Facebook. Facebook connects people around the world through constant feature of being in-touch with their friends, sharing their hobbies and interests, and promotion. The website asks the user to input their personal data which are then posted publically. Of course, there is a part where the Facebook asks the consent of the user to display these information publically, however, should the user agrees to hide these, their information can still be accessed via the search engine. For instance, one person tries to search for a list of people who live in Manila, all of the users who placed Manila as their Hometown will appear in the search result. This simple feature of a person knowing who lives in a certain place is already an act of privacy invasion. The worst part, there is a new feature that includes the current location of a user upon posting an update at the time of submission. No information is safe in the web cloud. There is a risk of a person being observed by computer hackers.

Thoughtcrime is a portmanteau of the words thought and crime. A person is detained by the Thought Police the moment a person is proven that he or she thought of something related to rebellion even if that person did not execute it. This type of percussion can be compared to today’s act of alerting the security the moment a suspicious person is seen. In context with this issue, it produced another problem that set the minds of the people that every individual is a bad person unless proven otherwise – removing one of the basic aspect of a human being, trust. With this, a follow up example related to privacy invasion is the simple act of security check in most establishments, even in private or public educational campuses. A person is suspected bringing any type of weapons or bombs unless he or she allows the security to inspect his or her belongings to prove that he or she is innocent.

Another issue is the concept of the new language Newspeak. Newspeak aims to lessen the vocabulary of the English language. A huge collection of words tends to let the people think of the different meanings – synonym words may mean the same thing but in a degree their definitions are profound. Newspeak’s style of decreasing the words is by removing a word and replacing it with its existing opposite only to be added with a prefix. For example, they may remove the word “bad” and replace it with “ungood”. This way, only the word “good” exists in the vocabulary and receives alteration. Of course, the degrees of the word “bad” are also removed. “Worse” and “worst” are replaced by (for example) super-ungood and mega-ungood, respectively. Defining the suffixes “super-“ and “mega-“ can be confusing as these words are adjective that intensifies another word but does not affect the degrees of the meaning that much. This way people who use these words in their conversions will lose the motivation to think of what those words mean – and that is what the government wanted. Modern way of implementing this (unconsciously) is the creation of the languages Jejemon, Bekemon, and the most influential is the, “SMS-language”. Jejemon and Bekemon tend to change the word’s spelling by adding more soft-phonetic letters similar to the word’s respective syllables. In contrary, the “SMS-language”, which I call it, is a way of reducing the word’s spelling by replacing syllables with letters with the same reading sound and replacing the “-o” sounds with “-u” sound such as the word “sino”, or who in the English language, will be replaced by the word “cnu”. This may seem harmless and reasonable way of sending a message since it optimizes the purpose of the “short-messaging” system or SMS. However, an argument can be made here that this kind of language may reduce the capacity of a user to distinguish Filipino words from another (i.e. the Filipino homonyms). The “SMS-language” is not limited to reducing a word’s spelling but may also mixed different languages such as the Filipino word “kuwarto”, when used in an SMS, it may be replaced by the word “room”. The two words have the same meaning, the only difference is that the word room is much smaller compared to its Filipino counterpart and it is easy to type since it will only require 3 buttons.

Of course, the most prominent issue that can be seen all throughout the novel is the violation of the human rights. In the story of 1984, people are subjected to 24-hour surveillance, to recreation-oppression, and much more. Big Brother is the omnipresent idolized image created by the elites to subject the lower class to submission. Big Brother’s purpose is to command the people to do its bidding. It can be compared to today’s religions’ icons except the Big Brother is extremely followed – he is the “God” of 1984. Every people is required to submit their selves to Big Brother and should not waver their loyalty. This is comparable to today’s issues about poverty where the higher class has control over the lower class. The higher class can command the lower class to do certain things as they promised that they will bring salvation to those who join, well of course, the result is always far from what is said. Some fulfills their promises however their rewards do not actually lift the lives of the poor better. They only provide temporary solutions. Of course, the poor are already grateful to what they receive. As such, the higher class can command the lower class to do more as they will only provide temporary solutions.

The world of 1984 can be seen in present times. The contemporary issues of that time are still today’s issues. 1984 discusses the different roots and solutions to these problems. Although untimely it seems and the generations are different, the basic issues are same.

(Source: Wikipedia – definitions.)



About Rex Tan

Electronics and Communications Engineer

Posted on September 1, 2013, in Philippines, Society and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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