Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Nineteen Eighty-Four at 70

1984 has come and gone with little in the way of Big Brother (although I suppose that depends on whom you ask), but George Orwell’s novel is still a key component of education and culture.

A point made by this stencilled sign I spotted stapled to a wooden pole not very long ago.

1984

1984

I’m not sure how those I’ll refer to as normal/ordinary people view the novel, but I can’t ignore it as it was one of ‘set texts’ I had to read and study in detail during the years of my secondary education, so it’s inevitably engraved in my memory.

One aspect I remember wondering about was if I would live long enough to see 1984 (which was a bit silly in some respects, as it wasn’t that far in my future, but kids don’t have much perception of time).

Another was my growing knowledge of electronics around the same time, when I concluded (rightly at the time, wrongly in the future) that the level of surveillance was, if not impossible, at least not practical. While I suppose a wholly dystopian state could have ordered and implemented it, the technology of the time would have seen the world immersed in a sea of connection wires (for all the cameras and microphones).

If you’re unfamiliar with communication wiring of the past (something almost invisible today), just look at this telephone wiring (and this is only 5,000 lines):

5000 telephone lines in Stockholm

5000 telephone lines in Stockholm

See more examples like this in the source: Photos from the Days When Thousands of Cables Crowded the Skies

They’re still there today, but in a different form since they are more likely to be carrying many (digital) signals: Bucharest: Cables

There would have been another problem – the power needed to run all that hardware, which would have been huge using the technology of the time (mostly valve based, transistors were still to become widely used). There would have been so many power station, and all coal powered, that we’d have been immersed in constant smog – and climate change would have arrived with a vengeance.

In fact, there would probably have been such a great demand for manufacturing the hardware, building power stations, installing the wiring, and mining the coal, that the wars described in the novel couldn’t have happened as everyone would have been too busy installing the surveillance system.

Of course, the arrival of the transistor, the death of the valve, and birth of the Internet around 1970 (but spawned just after the novel was published) meant that the technology to permit billions of point-to-point connections could be made was available, and just needed some software, and hardware, to be developed.

This seems to be the first British edition cover I found online.

nineteen eighty-four First British Edition Secker and Warburg 1949

nineteen eighty-four First British Edition Secker and Warburg 1949

It’s a bit of a long read, but this article saves me from rambling on further, as its consideration of the novel as a warning, rather than the more usual prophecy, makes a lot more sense.

Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House in January 2017 created, among other things, a golden opportunity for enterprising protesters. One designer created a version of the Trump campaign’s red baseball cap, replacing his slogan “Make America Great Again” with “Make Orwell Fiction Again”.

It’s a good, dark joke but it raises the question of whether Nineteen Eighty-Four, which turns 70 this weekend, was really fiction in the first place.

George Orwell first outlined his idea for a novel about the future, originally called “The Last Man in Europe”, around the end of 1943, and it would be another five years before he typed the final words. In the intervening period, he road-tested many of the book’s most important ideas, images and phrases in hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers.

In fact, virtually everything he wrote as a journalist during that time had some relevance to his novel. By 1948, he was so determined to finish the book that he refused to retreat to a sanatorium to seek sorely needed treatment for his tuberculosis, a decision which probably doomed his chances of recovery.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949, to instant acclaim and alarm. Its author died less than eight months later at the age of 46. For Orwell, the book was nothing less than an obsession.

Orwell would not have gone to such punishing lengths to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four if it had been merely fiction. From the very start, it was his way of making sense of the totalitarian regimes that were tormenting Europe: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

How did these tyrannies take root and could something similar – or even worse – emerge elsewhere, in countries that assumed their institutions and liberties were safe?

It was the first dystopian novel written with the full knowledge that dystopia was real. The phrases that Orwell invented were brilliantly, unforgettably new – Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak, the Thought Police – but they were all satirical exaggerations of existing totalitarianism.

Readers behind the Iron Curtain – where the book was banned and possession of a smuggled copy could lead to a prison sentence – certainly didn’t categorise it as fiction. They found that Orwell’s concepts were all too relevant to their own restricted lives.

Nineteen Eighty-Four at 70: Orwell’s novel wasn’t a prophecy, it was a warning and a reminder

Interestingly, in 1984…

Apple advertised what they didn’t want to become, but they did.

Since the above didn’t actually include the full Apple commercial…

NOTE: the Apple 1984 piece starts at 0:09 – we wanted to show it in context of Super Bowl XVIII. This video was recorded on our CEO’s parents’ VCR on January 22, 1984, the 30th anniversary of Apple’s iconic MacIntosh 1984 ad, directed by Ridley Scott, and aired during Super Bowl XVIII. Midway through the 3rd quarter, the broadcast cut to a commercial, the screen momentarily went dark, and what aired next became part of marketing and tech history.

Update

More articles appeared later, and I liked this short review of how the novel has different relevancies at different times.

Why 1984 still matters

I’ll include the embedded video link from the BBC, but WordPress is now unreliable as regards playing embeds. Some days it like them, some days it doesn’t.

If there’s no embedded video below, then you can assume it was there when I wrote and reviewed this update, but then disappeared when I hit the ‘Publish’ button – in which case, Thanks a Lot, WordPress!

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06/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, photography, Surveillance, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

   

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