Technology Advances: How Close Is Technology to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four?

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Internet Scrubbing and Changing the Past

The Ministry of Truth would struggle to remove everything from the internet. Image by Patrick Hoesly

The Ministry of Truth might struggle to keep up with the Internet. Image by Patrick Hoesly

In Orwell’s vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four one thing is certain: there’s no Internet. Winston can only make the changes he needs to when someone sends him information through tubes on his desk. In Orwell’s book, the government archives history, but then changes it as the government sees fit. Could this be possible in today’s world with the Internet?

The Internet provides a vast world of knowledge, where people simply type in a search term and pull up hundreds of results. If Orwell’s world were ever to become real, the government would have to find every website created on a subject it wanted to rewrite, and make sure all of the existing material was changed – and then battle against people’s memories.

But the Internet can change history right? Isn’t it possible to make changes to websites? Wikipedia is one website that makes it possible for anyone to edit any page, which leads to the risk of pages not quite being accurate. Internet Scrubbing, where people remove all instances of a specific topic or event, is also becoming a popular way to remove something embarrassing that has been posted – and selective blocking or blacklisting by a search engine could result in the general public’s complete inability to reach sites that provide contrasting information. What does that mean? Current technology makes George Orwell’s view of 1984 possible in these areas as well.

Could Nineteen Eighty-Four Have Inspired Technological Advances?

It seems that some technology is going towards the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. We’ve got cameras on the street to monitor for crime, televisions are becoming smarter, it is now possible to communicate with someone via video, and software is available to transcribe your spoken words so you don’t have to take the trouble of typing them, but there is still a long way to go to reach the smart telescreens and the speakwrites from Orwell’s world. However, these technologies are possible. What Orwell and others envisioned as the technology of the future is, to some degree, the technology of today – even if it wasn’t the technology of 1984.

Resources

Orwell, G. Nineteen Eighty-Four. (1949). Penguin.

Lee, H. Colleges Look for Ways to Help Students Scrub Online Footprints. (2013). Columbia Missourian. Accessed January 20, 2013

Kan, M. China Scrubs Online Rumors from Internet, Shuts Down Sites. (2012). PCWorld. Accessed January 20, 2013.

CBS Los Angeles. Police Install Video Cameras Across Long Beach to Help Monitor Crime. (2012). Accessed January 20, 2013.

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