Is it 1984 yet?


Spring has arrived, but winter has barricaded the door. I’m in a dark mood.


At times like this, I admit that I don’t always keep my paranoia on a leash. In fact, I often let it run wild, allowing it to chase hare-brained rabbits down various trails or follow the scent of little chickens warning that the sky is falling.


Naturally it’s not my fault I’m so paranoid. I blame it on the book 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know about your mind, but in my mind, for pure fear, no other book comes close. * On the dystopian spectrum, it’s on the far end of terror.


On the other end, in what could be called the “happy” dystopia, lies Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. Published in 1932, it envisions a world of people manacled by drug-induced happiness, materialism, and sex, a world that sounds surprisingly like our own. Seventeen years later, post-World War II, Orwell published his book, depicting a world enslaved by fear, with a seemingly benevolent Big Brother in control of past, present, and future.


In the actual year 1984 at a panel convened to discuss Orwell’s dystopia and the modern world, the educator Neil Postman proposed that contemporary Western society reflected Huxley’s view of the future rather than Orwell’s. Postman equated the entertainment industry with the drug soma that people in Brave New World used to escape into happiness. The following year Postman published his insights in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so.


I tend to agree with Postman, yet North Korea stands as a reminder that Orwellian governments can and do exist. My own fear is that the two will blend, and we’ll end up with a Brave New 1984: a populace condemned to artificial happiness found in drugs, sex, acquisition, and entertainment, who relinquishes all control to a Big Brother who will not allow anyone off Paradise Island.


While brooding through winter’s siege, I have been reading about school libraries closing due to budget cuts and others removing their books because of the availability of so much online information. Why bother funding libraries and librarians when you have Google? Why house all those dust-loving books when they can be downloaded and read on e-readers?


My paranoia and I find this disturbing. Online information is stored at physical locations. Whoever owns these data centers effectively owns the information, as does whoever controls the electricity and power grid that allows people to access the servers or charge their electronic devices. As long as there are everyone checks and balances, and everyone involved believes in net neutrality and open access, we are fine. But what happens if unchecked power controls access?


You can’t turn off a book. And you don’t need electricity to read one. We need books, and we need libraries full of books. Children especially need a place to go to explore the world of ideas, a quiet place to read books of their own choosing.


I’m not against e-books and online copies. I enjoy my electronics. They have their place, and that place is next to books, not in place of books.


Stitched Panorama


*Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road would equal 1984 on the terror scale if it were a sustainable world. It is a dying world that will end; the horror of 1984 is that there is no end in sight.


Big Brother: Paternm
Surveillance Cameras: Hustvedt
Books: © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0


35 thoughts on “Is it 1984 yet?

  1. Oh, say it isn’t so (although I know it is). We are fighting to keep our libraries open in my county. I’m am convinced that if we don’t have libraries, it is a sign of such disintegration that I shall have to move from this area. It will, in my mind, be more barren than education opportunities in a third world country. The people will have CHOSEN to relinquish the joy of generations gathering in the library for everything from the newspaper to movies.
    And don’t get me started on our country’s (which includes all of us) choices to support war, mock safety, and sham security instead of education and health care for all.
    Sorry for the rant. I won’t be offended if you don’t accept my comment.

  2. I rather think they are using ‘terror’ to manipulate us, lately. And a bit of the ever present cameras – just wielded by other humans rather than the government. Unless you live in England, of course. Soma seems to be replaced by reality tv and muck like Twilight. I don’t have an answer for libraries’ continuing existence…maybe as museums to the paper-written word. For now.

  3. I like to read the books I spontaneously and also plan to read on my kindle, however I also, like the library experience. I like to choose a book, read about the author, read the flap , read the first page of the first chapter that hooks me.

    My grandson and I visit the library at least once a week. Our librarians have made it such a delightful place for him. The large windows that bring the outdoors in captivate him as he observes, squirrels, red birds and even a dead bird. (yikes) It takes us away from school, away from home, he loves it.

  4. I have similar fears, though it seems to me unavoidable that the book will be replaced by internet or what comes after internet. It seems to me that people will be very cooperative with a totalitarian state until things begin to go wrong. There is something very seductive about new gadgets and methods… especially for the young. And yes, I think ‘Brave New World’ was a very scary but accurate forecast, though Huxley’s other masterpiece, ‘The Island’ offered another possibility. My hope lies in the infinite possibilities of human character. Despite our herd instinct, there are always a few odd balls who remind us of what is holy.

  5. There is already so much deliberate filtering of information, depending on which news channel you choose to watch, or which online front page you choose to read. All of those options are controlled by someone with an axe to grind.

    I was more than a bit appalled to read an online story today about Common Core math, and how it requires teachers to ask students questions that are deliberately promoting a point of view that is about a particular political view, and has no relation to the truth. The filtering of information to serve one view or another is nothing more than a huge power struggle, but in the process of trying to dominate the information, all sides of the equation are losing sight of the truth. Sorry, I can get my knickers all twisted up in a knot when I ponder too long on how information is controlled.

    Your scenario of books disappearing, and then the “freely available” resources being shut down by a Big Brother controlled society is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. Coupled with the bulk of society being willing to quietly march in formation, and total disaster looms around every corner. Paranoia isn’t an unreasonable reaction at all.

    In an unrelated but related topic, by sister scoffs at me because I can’t bear to “trash” a beautiful forty volume set of encyclopedias. Yes, they are outdated. Yes, it’s true that they no longer have new information added to them every year by an addenda volume. Yes, they take up a lot of space. But my argument is that they are (a) books, (b) beautiful, and (c) represent a wealth of knowledge in a small space that you can actually touch with your hands. She smirks and points fingers in my direction, and all I can do is shrug my shoulders and lightly caress their gilt-edged pages.

  6. Your closing note regarding *The Road* is perhaps the most chilling part of this piece. It is indeed a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in which we live, though less cheery perhaps than the cinematic version…!

  7. I share your paranoia. The scariest part to me, however is that people (especially the younger, tech-loving generation is compliantly handing over all of their private information to corporations and even “big brother” government in exchange for a free trinket or coupon. They implicitly trust that their information will not be used against them or shrug it off as the cost of technology. It appalls me to see their happy trust. It is very difficult for me to balance my privacy and the need for technology. They don’t seem to care.

    • I am always astounded by my students and their attitude to online privacy. As you said, their “happy trust” reminds me of the old fairy tales in which the witch lures the little children into her lair with sweets, and only then do they realize they are her sweets.

  8. Already, malware is available to spy on us through our devices. We had a tech business go bankrupt in our building. They left everything, including their cell phones so they could not be tracked. GPS in our cars allows repo companies to find cars. At some point, we may have chips inserted under the guise of the ultimate in prevention of identity theft. Inserted chips are part of our popular movies and books…the Hunger Games and the Divergent series among many.

    The book of Revelation speaks of the mark of the beast which is required to buy and sell. “16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.” Revelation 13.

    Chilling, really.

  9. I think we are speeding head long into “1984” Big Brother is in the White House and he is about to relinquish the “oversight” of the aforementioned internet to just about any entity with the wherewithal to control it.. And we thought the NSA scandal was bad, who will have access to all of our personal information after that occurs? Physical books will not have to be banned in the new “1984” they won’t exist and those e-books will be censored propaganda selected for distribution.. It is indeed “1984” just thirty years late in its arrival.

  10. That was awesome, you sound like me. I used to call myself a conspiratress until all my conspiracy theories started coming true. I miss the good old days when science fiction was still fiction and dystopian nightmares were not so close to the surface.

  11. The revision of history is what comes to mind first here.

    Step 1:
    Invention of writing. What dead people said was no longer left to brains to remember, but selectively recorded in writing.

    Step 2:
    Printing. Manuscripts were still around, but very expensive. Only what was chosen for printing was widely available.

    Step 3:
    Digital. Original source material is left on the shelf and people can search electronically for those items selected for digitization.

    The big problem with Step 3 is that digital data is so easy to change. Only on paper can you know what is an original copy. Anyone can re-write anything, and you know who will have the most power to do that.

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