1984: The Effects of Technology on the Population
Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by English writer George Orwell published in June 1949, whose themes center on the risks if government overreach, totalitarianism, and repressive regimentation of all people and behaviours within society. The novel is set in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism and propaganda. In the novel, Great Britain has become a province of a superstate named Oceania, which is ruled by the Party, who employ the Thought Police to persecute individuality and independent thinking. The Party’s leader is Big Brother, whom states he is always watching through hidden cameras, microphones, and through the televisions, which they are not allowed to turn off.
Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher stated in previous years that he was warning us about the rise of new technologies such as the ones displayed in Orwell’s novel, and predicted that they would have tremendous effects on society. Through the themes of the novel, nationalism, censorship and surveillance, we can determine how technologies can affect the population. Nineteen Eighty-Four expands upon the subjects summarized in Orwell’s essay “Notes in Nationalism” about the lack of vocabulary needed to explain the unrecognized phenomena behind certain political forces. In 1984, the Party’s artificial, minimalistic, ‘Newspeak’, addresses the matter.
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There are three types of nationalism displayed in this novel according to Orwell; positive nationalism, negative nationalism and transferred nationalism. Positive nationalism has to do with Oceanian’s perpetual love for Big Brother, despite the threats he presents to them for disobeying his rules (Neo-Toryism and Celtic nationalism). Negative nationalism would be Oceanian’s hatred for Emmanuel Goldstein (Stalinism and Anglophobia).
Positive nationalism is fueled by love, whereas negative nationalism is fuelled by hatred, according to Orwell’s studies. But why would they love Big Brother, despite the strict rules he enforces on their society? This may be due to the fact that the population loves Oceania and does not question Big Brother or the Party’s intentions, as they rule the province for a reason.
Transferred nationalism is shown as Oceania’s enemy changes, and an orator changes mid sentence. The crowd instantly transfers its hatred towards the new enemy. Transferred nationalism swiftly redirects emotions from one power unit to another, which happens during Hate Week. A party rallies against the original enemy, in which then the crowd goes wild and destroys the posters that are against their new friend. Many say that this may be the act of an agent of their new enemy and former friend. Much of the crowd must have out up the posters before the rally but think that state of affairs had always been the case affairs. O’Brian, one of the main characters in this novel, states “the object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” This shows that the society in Oceania is blindly following the government merely because they believe they know what they are doing for the nation and are too scared to question the Party or Big Brother.
The major theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four is censorship, especially in the Ministry of Truth, where photographs are modified, and public archives were rewritten to rid them of “unpersons”. On the telescreens, figures for all types of production are grossly exaggerated or simply invented to indicate an ever -growing economy, when the reality is the opposite. One minor example of the endless censorship is Winston being charged with the task if eliminating a reference to an unperson in a newspaper article. He proceeds to write an article about Comrade Ogilvy, a made-up party member who displayed great heroism by leaping into the sea from a helicopter so that the dispatches he was carrying would not fall into enemy hands. With this, it can be seen that information displayed to the people of Oceania has been heavily altered to display what the government wants them to see and believe. With the advance technology they have, they are able to do this, and brainwash the citizens of the nation into believing that their approach is the one and only correct way to run a superstate.
The inhabitants of Oceania, more specifically, the Outer Party members, generally do not have privacy. Many of them live in apartments with two-way telescreens so that they may be watched or listened to at any given moment. Similar telescreens are found at workstations and in public places, along with hidden microphones. Written correspondence is routinely opened and read by the government before it is delivered, and the Thought Police employ undercover agents, whom pose as normal citizens and report any person with subversive tendencies. Children are encouraged to report suspicious people to the government, and some denounce their parents.
Citizens are controlled, and the smallest sign of rebellion can result in immediate arrest and imprisonment. Thus, citizens of Oceania, particularly party members, are compelled to obedience, in fear of being captured. With the rise of technology, it becomes more likely for it to be abused by people of higher power, as demonstrated in this novel. With these new technologies, such as the telescreens, hidden cameras and microphones, the government was able to alter the way the population of Oceania lived their everyday life. The technology altered nationalism, censorship and surveillance and how society perceives it. They evolved from a life of freedom of expression to having to suppress all emotion, feeling and opinions.