I’ve heard more people reference 1984 this year than ever before. I also read it this year for the first time. Here’s my takeaway.
Most people reference the book and say something like, “These are exactly the times we’re living in now,” and by that they imply that the government is in some sort of co-op with the media to shove an agenda down America’s throat. Someone made a similar remark to me literally the day after I finished the book.
If you haven’t read 1984, it’s well worth your time, not just to be acquainted with such an important novel, but to understand what truly can happen in this world. Governments can become totalitarian, and while some of the book may sound exaggerated to our modern ears, it’s not far-fetched. One major feature of the book is the all-seeing telescreen. These are everywhere and they function as a government sanctioned FaceTime to watch every part of your waking and sleeping life. They are always listening. (I couldn’t help but think of Alexa lighting up from across the room and ordering toilet paper on demand. What if that technology was used against us?)
Totalitarianism can happen, and it has many times before. A sizable portion of the public doesn’t realize this, or at least doesn’t realize how bad it can get. I just heard of a study that “Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.”
So we shouldn’t be overly optimistic about totalitarianism being impossible in America. That said, I think America faces a far different problem.
As prescient as Orwell’s novel was, it could have never predicted the situation we find ourselves in now—unlimited sources of information published by anyone and shared globally as fast as a click.
I think the American problem with media is exactly the opposite of that depicted in 1984. We are not being propagandized by a totalitarian government, we are curating our own propaganda based on our hopes and, more so, fears. We reinforce again and again our own view of the world, and our reaction to any voice that feels “mainstream” is increasingly violent. Because of the distrust of government, we’re much more prone to blindly believe what appears on our social feeds, even if the source isn’t credible. In our attempt to stay free from the lies of “Big Brother,” we have become susceptible to conspiracy theories of all varieties, no matter how unreasonable.
Zeal for doing whatever it takes to not be tricked by the government has made us addicted to tricking ourselves.