Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Orwell Makes Me Queasy

Michael Kinsley, in a Reader's Digest article entitled "Orwell Got it Wrong" published June 1997, elucidated that contrary to creating Big Brother, advances in technology have increased personal liberties by drastically democratizing and improving access to information. To this paradigm I still agree. If anything, the advent of sites like Wikileaks has made it impossible to keep secrets for too long. In that sense, states have lost a great deal of control over information, and thus the biggest pillar of Big Brother's power--absolute control over information by The Party, has fallen.

But, in a similarly titled article written by Bruce Schneider ("Where Orwell Got It Wrong," accessible here: http://www.journal-online.co.uk/article/3103-where-orwell-got-it-wrong), he argues that Big Brother did not completely disappear--he was just transformed from the symbol of a totalitarian state into a symbol of a "decentralized police state," where it is not government that holds and controls our sensitive information, but potentially anyone who can get to them and abuse them for unlawful means. He wrote:

"We're building the computer infrastructure that makes it easy for governments, corporations, criminal organizations and even teenage hackers to record everything we do, and—yes—even change our votes. And we will continue to do so unless we pass laws regulating the creation, use, protection, resale and disposal of personal data."

And this cannot but make one be a little bit paranoid. Has the pursuit of free access to information created the very monster it sought to destroy? True, no state can conceivably conduct the large-scale modification and revisionism of history that The Party in 1984 did with the advent of the internet. But now, that power has been given to every corporation, hacker, or individual with internet access. Just look at the changelogs of a typical Wikipedia article and one will see that the Big Brother's Ministry of Truth isn't dead. Minitrue exists in every editor, reviser, and reviewer of Wikipedia who has ever altered an article for reasons other than perpetuating truth. The power over information has been democratized. But along with it was democratized the ability of abuse.

And that just makes me queasy.

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