photo by Elaine Chan and Priscilla Chan
It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. Well, it could have been another time during the year, but the first half of the twentieth century brought in numerous novels that portrayed a society in which heavy control was enforced over people’s daily lives while highlighting a protagonist trying to make his way through the madness. Books like We, Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 showed what the world would be like if power-hungry individuals got a grasp over the norms of society, leaving everyone short of breath. These books gave birth to the concept of the dystopian society.
Why were these novels written when they were? All of the authors of these novels lived in an environment in where revolutions, genocide, world wars, cold wars, civil wars and the rest of the like were occurring on a global scale. The depths of human cruelty over the fight for power was strong while making the future of the powerless look bleak.
George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four a few years after the end of World War II. This was a time when people witnessed the worst in mankind. Power-happy dictators were running their countries and their men in arms in similar fashion to children frying ants with a magnifying glass. Had history gone a different way, a society in which people lived as robots that served their government, while ignoring the essence and beauty of life, could have become a reality. This was the society that Orwell portrayed in his novel. The protagonist by the name of Winston worked everyday at the Ministry of Truth. He spent countless hours changing historical records to match the words and everlasting watchful eyes of Big Brother. The entire government was run by Big Brother and his Thought Police as they watched the actions of every citizen within society. War was ever prevalent, and the concept of free thought was punishable by death.
Few could blame Orwell for dreaming up such a society. It was easy for him to be pessimistic Surviving the catastrophe of World War II and now finding the world in the middle of an arms race during the Cold War.
Luckily Big Brother never came to be. People can walk in their apartments, houses, and bungalows without the worry of a constant watching government interpreting their every move. But that didn’t keep creative minds from imagining a different future. The 80’s and 90’s brought a different form of dystopia with the concept of artificial intelligence. This was heavily utilized by the use of cinema. Movies like Terminator and The Matrix trilogy portrayed a society in which man’s creations were built at an exponential rate, to the point that men could no longer control them. Creation no longer stood on the shoulders of giants when machines got minds of their own and declared war on the beings that created them, resulting in a society in which men were slaves and machines ruled the world.
These movies were created when the light of technology began to show how far the revolution of household computers could take us. Robots and computers that acted as a replacement for common human tasks were no longer elements in Sci-Fi movies but could be purchased at Wal-Mart. People no longer wondered what would become the consequences of human power, but of human creation.
Today, there aren’t robots traveling back in time looking for boys to kill. There are no secret police interpreting a person’s thoughts to be traitorous. But that doesn’t stop minds from imagining what the future could be like given the current trends in today’s society. With the constant growth of social networking tools, it would be easy to foresee the planet being run by people of the likes of Mark Zuckerburg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Social networks are continuing to expand their grasp on keeping track of a person’s every move. Unlike Orwell’s future, this is an opt-in Big Brother. People can now make it known on Facebook that they are listening to a new Cut Copy track on Spotify.com, while sharing pictures of themselves getting ready to go out, then “checking in” at the local concert venue to see Cut Copy live. Every decision and every action is now available to share with the entire world.
People might still fear a controlling society in which people are slaves to a higher power in the near future. Today, they might not see this happening by an overseeing government or disenchanted robots, but by the pressures of social society. The growth of Facebook and other similar websites might hold the power in which everyone will succumb. But it is all right, everything is all right, everything is finished. The victory will be won over ourselves. We love Mark Zuckerburg.
Written by: Zachary Ehren