To give credit where credit is due, I plagiarized the title of this piece from a recent “USA Today” article. I was instantly impressed by the title’s simultaneous denial and reinforcement of Orwellian thought patterns. After all, what could be more classically Orwellian than having a major cultural institution unilaterally proclaim that society at large must redefine the words it is using? Unfortunately, upon closer examination of the article I was unimpressed. Granted, imprecise and fuzzy language lends itself well towards authoritarian language games, but the writing in the “USA Today” piece was also depressingly boring. I decided that a rewrite was in order, one which adhered to Orwellian thought patterns, while also being interesting and engaging. If you work in the HR department at “USA Today” and happen to be reading this, my contact information is on the about page of this bog. I’m sure that you are constantly on the lookout for new editors, and I would love to turn you down.
George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984, recently jumped to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. One would suppose that many of the people buying this book are doing so for the express purpose of eventually reading it. Research suggests that this may be the best way to discover what a book is about. Regrettably, however, many of the people who read 1984 may miss out on some of the subtle nuances which are so integral to Orwell’s writing.
While some people may mistakenly find similarities between the world described by Orwell, and the new cultural order which is being ushered in by global tech giants, the fact of the matter is that the two worlds could not be further apart.
The key to understanding Orwell’s work is to differentiate between the critical infrastructure described in his work, and the intent of the institutions administering that infrastructure. Those who mistakenly see the infrastructure described by Orwell as the most important element in his dystopian warnings would be forgiven for seeing similarities between the world of 1984 and the world of today. These uninitiated individuals may find parallels to Orwell in the use of technology to eliminate personal privacy, the close monitoring of personal activity, the re-imagining of linguistic protocols, the curtailing of free speech and the constant fluidity of political objectives, but they would be wrong to do so.
The subtlety so often missed in Orwell’s work is this: while the infrastructure of today may seem similar to what Orwell described, it is not the infrastructure which is important, it is the intent behind the infrastructure. Orwell described a world which was ruled by despotic authoritarians. In contrast, the world of the future is being ushered in by benevolent corporate/political juggernauts who have nothing but the best interests of humanity in mind. There is absolutely no connection between these entities, and the governing bodies described so vividly in Orwell’s writing.
In short, Orwell’s negative vision of the future simply does not square with the positive future on the cusp of which we seem to be poised. By conceiving of this infrastructure in the framework of positivity, we can ensure that it will never be used in a negative manner. While the picture which Orwell painted of the future was grim and dystopian, the future with which we are presented in reality is bright and utopian. We must not let niggling doubts hold us back in our quest for a brave new world.
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