Why We’re Not Living in 1984: “Orwell’s Oversight”

Picture: JoyHill09 (CC)

Picture: JoyHill09 (CC)

“Orwell’s oversight”

Any instance where the establishment’s official line is contradicted by the communications revolution. Orwell suggested a society where citizens were constantly watched and controlled by surveilence technology. We live instead in a world where everyone is watched by everyone else and “the rulers of the world” are no exception.

The following article from CNN is worth reading, as is the book, 1984 by George Orwell, a novel which changed my life for the better:

CNN: We’re Living 1984 Today We live in a world that George Orwell predicted in “1984.” And that realization has caused sales of the 1949, dystopian novel to spike dramatically upward recently — a 9,000% increase at one point on Amazon.com.

1984 is a victim of its own success. It’s a vision so compelling it has enchanted many, including those in positions of power, as an inevitable vision of our future in fact as opposed to fiction. To criticise it as inaccurate factual prophecy, with a key oversight, is only to notice a distinction between fantasy and reality. I’m not arguing the book is less worthwhile, just that it is a catalyst for misunderstandings regarding the modern world because it is a piece about human nature not technology. In reality, the internet’s all-seeing-eye works both ways. We can see them just as they can see us, I call this fact ‘Orwell’s oversight’.

“Orwell’s oversight” relates to why the internet is so successful and why it represents such a dramatic change to the balance of power between Governments and the people they rule. In short: the information superhighway sends equal traffic both ways. So, the watchers are being watched and “Big Brother” is as much a prisoner of the web as are his citizens.

Thus “Orwell’s Oversight” is a the title given to any situation where an establishment, which was used to dictating the information agenda, gets caught up in its own web in a manner that would not have been possible twenty years ago.

In the UK the death of Ian Tomlinson is a good example. Initially a report was dictated to the media on the 2nd of April 2009 which described a case where evil protesters attacked heroic police officers who were trying anxiously to save a poor man who lay helpless on the ground dying. Then, “Orwell’s oversight” kicked in and a member of the public submitted footage of Tomlinson being anything but helped by the police.

Previously such thuggery would have been impossible to report because it would likely only have been supported by word of mouth testimony. However thanks to our “surveillance society” that was not the case in 2009 and The Guardian had source material to work with which was impossible to dismiss. Ultimately this has real impact and forced the issue resulting in an apology from the police this month: Ian Tomlinson’s family win apology from Met police over death in 2009, Guardian.

There are numerous other examples, around the world, of “Orwell’s oversight” catching out the authorities. I welcome examples in the comments section and will update this entry to include more over time. Big Brother could tell his citizens what he wanted and they had no way of countering him but in 2013 the reality is quite different, drone attacks cannot be covered up, revelations from the likes of Wikileaks won’t go away and evidence of the disparity between what the establishment claims to represent and actually is will continue to frustrate their agenda.This has undoubtedly caught them by surprise more often than not. The establishment is used to a more compliant and controlled broadcast media supplemented by newspapers which are, in the main, ignored by the masses. It’s important to remember the distinction between the print media and the broadcasters, particularly in the UK, as one is licenced directly by the powers that be and the other is not. This accounts for their different editorial directions.

Another aspect of “Orwell’s Oversight” though is the fact the net allows anyone to give direct feedback and offer a counter narratives to the establishment’s online representatives:

Advertisers and politicians have always fantasised that people passively consume the media, believing everything it says, and accept it as an authoritative source of information. Personally I don’t believe this was ever the case, there’s a slight of mind trick played on people in the media industry that silence is consent.

I can’t be the only one who remembers people mockingly saying “oh, yeah it must be true if it was in the papers, ha ha”. Furthermore as a child I used to love listening to my Dad take the piss out of the “wankers” on the telly. I always assumed that’s how most watched it, with a proverbial pinch of salt. If anything the advent of the net has confirmed this belief. Tune in to a TV show and watch the level of stick the presenter gets on Twitter while hosting a mainstream show. Previously media “stars” and politicians were protected from this because the broadcaster only sent traffic one way and responses top their message were always filtered. Silence was wrongly taken to imply consent or satisfaction by many.

Finally “Orwell’s oversight” relates to any new policy regarding the ‘communications revolution’ which will inevitably make a problem for the establishment in the long term. David Cameron’s attempts at net censorship in the UK are a good example. He intends to apply filters to the internet which allow you to opt-in if you want to view pornographic sites and any others your ISP wants to include in the filter. In Big Brother’s dictatorship this would mean one thing, in the real world it means information on which MPs and bureaucracies do and do not choose to allow porn into their computers. A Twitter follower of mine referenced this with a mention of the awful embarrassment the MP (and ex-colleague of mine) Jacqui Smith endured when her husband was caught paying to view porn with public money:

The word “apocalypse” means “revealing”. Perhaps those who thought we faced a human holocaust in December 2012 simply misunderstood this. If anything we’ve seen a very large number of ‘revealing’ stories at the moment, many of which would have been suppressed by the establishment without the force of “Orwell’s Oversight” behind them. Wikileaks, NSA, Jimmy Savile (establishment paedophile in UK) and even the UK Parliament’s expenses scandal were all pushed forward by the fact the journalists involved knew the information could be spread without the media if necessary.

The new dynamic is simple, we live in a world where everyone has access to a global communications system. Those who have been awarded a licence to broadcast by the establishment are becoming irrelevant. The full consequences of this have not yet been allowed to play out but they already suggest a very different world to the one Orwell predicted in 1984.

Nick Margerrison–my twitter here–Don’t just agree, share it!!!

A slightly different version of this essay appeared on my personal blog here.

Nick Margerrison

I write on Disinfo for fun, I've been a fan of the company for years.

In the real world I'm a freelance TV/radio presenter. I've worked for LBC, Kerrang Radio, The Bay, Edge Media TV, Hallam FM and The BBC.

My podcast is here: http://thecultofnick.libsyn.com/

18 Comments on "Why We’re Not Living in 1984: “Orwell’s Oversight”"

  1. Antediluviancurrent | Sep 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm |

    “Dear Mr. Orwell,

    It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. […] I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

    Thank you once again for the book.

    Yours sincerely,

    Aldous Huxley”

    • It amazes me that more people on this site don’t realize those two books are the greatest examples of Predictive Programming ever created. Orwell and Huxley were possibly the most evil men who ever lived.

      • moremisinformation | Sep 4, 2013 at 9:09 pm |

        I think Huxley much more so than Orwell…oh dear, I’m dangerously close to a Jan Irvin connection…

        • Ted Heistman | Sep 5, 2013 at 11:38 am |

          Just stop reading Jan Irvin and you should gain some IQ points back in a few days.

      • Antediluviancurrent | Sep 4, 2013 at 9:20 pm |

        Was Michel Foucault’s work also predictive programming?

      • “Predictive programming is a conspiracy theory promulgated by Alex Jones,[1] David Icke,[2] Michael Hoffman [3] and others.”

        “Michael Anthony Hoffman II (born 1957)[1] is an American Holocaust denier[2][3] and conspiracy researcher/theorist.[1][2]”

        That’s quite the trifecta. Enough said.

      • Orwell’s TV sets that watch you back (hello, XBox One) are a superficial detail. 1984’s depiction of how the governments of superpowers keep functioning from day to day, and the compromises that individuals make in order to keep functioning in such societies, was a snapshot of modern times at the moment when Orwell wrote them. The world that we live in didn’t become the world of 1984 after Orwell; the world merely failed to stop being the world of 1984.

      • Ted Heistman | Sep 5, 2013 at 11:38 am |

        Do you really think Orwell was evil? I mean didn’t he like elephants and whatnot? I have a hard time believing that he desired a future of perpetual war and crappy crumbling buildings and sexual repression

        • Well it’s been a while since I read it, but wasn’t the punchline at the end of the book ‘the most evil thing anyone can do is make people stop loving each other’? Orwell points at sun – people endlessly debate finger.

      • Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 5, 2013 at 12:59 pm |

        That had to be sarcasm. Care to reference any of these assertions?

      • Those books are written as warnings about the kinds of societies whose construction was already in process (IMO,we wound up with a combination of both) which the authors believed no sane person whether elite or peasant would want to live.

        They can’t be blamed for insane elites who saw warnings about dystopia as DIY guides.

  2. Haystack | Sep 4, 2013 at 9:25 pm |

    The most interesting contrast between the novel and the present day, for me, is that the go’vt didn’t have to install cameras and other monitoring devices to in our homes–we did so ourselves, by purchasing smart phones and other consumer goods which the authorities now use to spy on us. We never saw it coming.

    I agree with the general thrust of this article, but I think the surveillance skews heavily in the government’s favor. They can always find out what we’re doing in our living rooms, but we’re more or less limited (i.e., apart from the occasional Snowden) to things that happen in the open.

    • VaudeVillain | Sep 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm |

      “In the open” does, however, seem to keep growing as a space. That still cuts both ways, of course, but proportionately I feel the balance hasn’t really shifted that much. They can see more of us, we can see more of them, we get brighter lights to shine and they find deeper shadows to hide in.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Sep 4, 2013 at 10:43 pm |

    Big Brother is the technology
    the elite are the Inner Party
    merely watching the elites watch us
    misses the thief in the night
    the technology
    is Big Brother

    • neiallswheel | Aug 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm |

      It is possible that we are now big brother watching everything that the elite do, with more powerful weapons, truth, and the internet
      The repetition of their lies, gets us more accustomed to their dodgy narratives, we awake from their slumber more rapidly,
      Like a Tyler Deardon network, we are everywhere, we are stronger, some of us are peaceful, their violence will NEVER go unchallenged

  4. Will Coles | Sep 5, 2013 at 2:03 pm |

    The internet also allows for a much more efficient ‘memory hole’ than Orwell could have dreamed of. News article found to be embarrassing? Delete. You may have saved a copy on some mirror site but most people won’t know it exists, rather like Fox dumping its own TV investigation of the Israeli spy ring found after the Sept. 11th 2001 attacks. One phone call from the government & it will disappear. Wikileaks? Block funding, block servers, threaten host countries, etc.

    As for using the death of Ian Tomlinson as proof that everyone is under surveillance, remember that the police got away with it. Years of legal proceedings & tens of millions of pounds & the police murderer was never convicted & the police settled out of court for the civil case. The rules still exist that protect those in power.

  5. On a related and minor note, the whole concept of imposing Newspeak ignored the existence of sarcasm.

    “Yeah, I loooooOOOOOOoooooove Big Brother!”

  6. The medium is the message baby.

Comments are closed.