It’s gotten to be a bad joke, recently re-highlighted by the “discovery” that some of the new Samsung Smart TVs have cameras and microphones that could detect the goings-on in front of them (to allow better control of the TV): When people saw the “terms and conditions” warning that any criminal or terrorist-related visuals or words picked up by the TV could potentially be forwarded to the authorities, the web-verse immediately invoked George Orwell, and decried that “1984 was here.”
And as it happened, the spirit of George Orwell reared up out of his grave and said: “Oh, shut up and let me get some sleep already!”
George Orwell has become the modern world’s favorite broken record. Anything that even vaguely hints that the government might have some way of watching us, listening to us, or keeping track of our movements, instantly conjures up the tropes familiar to anyone who’s read Orwell’s 1984, and quite a few who haven’t. In 1984, the main character, Winston, lives in forced squalor, is actively watched through his television (and addressed by name when his mandatory morning exercises are slacking off), is employed by his government to regularly change historical documents to erase people the government has deemed unpopular or subversive, and when he has an unapproved liaison with a girl, he is arrested and physically and psychologically tortured. He is miserable, alone and broken, and he is emblematic of everyone in that society.
And this is the world that people like to reference, on a vehement basis, when the government shows any sign of paying attention to what its citizens do.
Frankly, it’s become annoying and kind of pathetic. The Samsung discovery is particularly sad, given that the things people are singling out against their Smart TVs, that they can potentially watch and listen to users in their living rooms, is nothing compared to the ability to track, watch and listen to users of cellphones… and cellphone users take their phones everywhere, not thinking twice about being watched or listened to in their bathrooms, on their toilets, in their beds…
It’s an indication of how hypocritical and short-sighted people are in the first place. It goes alongside the idea that their government, in an era of corrupt leaders, uncaring hirelings, limited manpower, buggy technology and ever-thinner budgets, actually have the people and technology available to actively watch and listen to everyone, right now. Newsflash: If the government could actually do that, you’d know, because there would not be a single unemployed person in the world—they would all have jobs, watching other people, because you’d need that many employees to keep track of everyone in the nation.
You’d also think that a public with this mindset would take more notice of television shows like Person of Interest, in which a man has invented a machine that actually can watch and listen to everyone… which he keeps reined in by design to avoid compromising people’s identities unnecessarily. Person of Interest regularly and directly addresses the philosophical issues Big Brother enthusiasts love to debate ad nauseam; but when it comes to a show which actually provides some realistic scenarios (for television, anyway) and legitimate answers to some of those questions, the Big Brother fans fade away.
And they should—for they really have nothing to show for their paranoia. They can claim all they want about their evil governments, but there is absolutely nothing to support their claims, or to even suggest that all of us are being herded, intentionally lied to, intentionally kept down, physically and psychologically tortured, or forced to live miserable lives in service of an authoritarian dictator. It’s a convenient fiction to justify the fact that their lives aren’t fully in their control, and ignoring the fact that there are other, perfectly logical and obvious reasons to explain it. It’s a crutch, an attempt to use conspiracies as an excuse for personal and societal inadequacies.
Well, speaking on behalf of George Orwell, I’d like to advise all of you to give it a rest. We don’t need conspiracies to explain our difficulties in life, some of which are inherent in society, and some of which are inherent in ourselves—because as long as we blame the wrong things for our faults, we can’t properly fix the right things. It’s time to stop seeing bogeymen around every corner, and accept reality for what it is: Hard, but real.
Just watch your TV. And let George get some sleep. He’s deserved it.