Do you know you’re being watched all the time? Of course you do. You’ve heard it a million times from everyone, but what have you done about it? Probably nothing because it’s not very evident; and if it was clear, would that change what you do about it? Probably not. Because deep down you don’t care about your privacy and would rather scroll through Facebook without worrying about someone watching you. You really don’t care if Siri or Alexa is listening to your conversation, because you’d rather ask them your quick questions than use Google.
This constant surveillance is extremely evident in the dystopian world of George Orwell’s “1984,” in which citizens’ every movement and words are monitored by the government, Big Brother, illustrating how lack of privacy instills fear, leading to power. Citizens of Oceania, the fictional country where Big Brother rules, are always being watched by the Thought Police through large telescreens.
As Orwell describes, “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it. Moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.”
Similar to the telescreens, the cameras all around us are watching us. I’m not talking about security cameras, but our laptop and phone cameras, and like the screens, we never know who’s watching us when. We just know that there’s a POSSIBILITY that someone is watching us stream Netflix or write an op-ed. There’s an entire business for webcam covers; we’ve probably tried them at some point, but then stopped because they look bad.
So, what do we do with the knowledge that we’re being watched? Nothing because honestly nobody really minds it. This is mimicked with household speakers, like Alexa and Google Home. They are activated by keywords, which means that they are always listening, but do we really care? These tools are really convenient and helpful to our daily lives, so would we sacrifice convenience to secure privacy? If anything, the surveillance is more of a security system, which makes sure no one is discussing anything harmful. This is similar to “1984,” where citizens are fine as long as they follow laws, but are being surveilled if they do anything illegal. For example, cell phones don’t really exist in “1984,” but citizens can communicate through letters which are read for illegal activity.
Orwell writes, “By a routine that was not even secret, all letters were opened in transit. Actually, few people ever wrote letters. For the messages that it was occasionally necessary to send, there were printed postcards with long lists of phrases, and you struck out the ones that were inapplicable.” The only difference from our world and “1984” is that we have much more power to change rules we disagree with and are mostly free to do whatever we desire.
Nevertheless, the lack of privacy in “1984” is openly evident, and it is clear that the government wants complete control, making sure citizens don’t rebel against the Party. Today, the lack of privacy is hidden, but we have much more control over what we message each other. Just like in “1984,” our government is monitoring to make sure no one is dealing weapons or dangerous materials.
Once again, would we stop texting knowing that our texts are being read? No, because we don’t care and like to text and communicate with others. Similarly, have you ever been online shopping and then seen advertisements about those searches all over the web? Or have you searched something up on Facebook or Instagram and seen ads about that all over your feed? You probably have, and also know that your information on these platforms isn’t private. But that doesn’t mean you’ll stop using these platforms, would you rather give up your “social life” or your privacy? On top of that, these platforms are so addictive, if we try to stop using them due to privacy reasons, it’ll be close to impossible.
This uncaring for our privacy is clearly evident when we sign terms and conditions. These policies about the sharing of private information are probably written in these terms, but when do we ever bother to read these terms? Never. You think this is because of your trust in the company, but deep down you know it’s because you just don’t care what it has to say and sign it, saving time as well.
Christopher Hope writes about this saying, “Facebook can gain direct access to a person’s mobile and take pictures or make videos at any time without explicit consent, MPs warn as they call on social media companies to simplify their terms and conditions.” However, even if the terms and conditions were simplified and clearly stated for say, “We gain access to fully view your profile,” would you still sign it? You probably would, because you want to be connected to your “friends.”
We know our world is similar to that of 1984, but our laws are much more flexible and surveillance is hidden. In both worlds, the surveillance is there for security measures, and deep down we can pretend to care that we’re being watched, but at the end of the day we know we would rather prefer convenience to privacy.