How accurate was Orwell in his vision of the future, and in what ways does our contemporary society compare to his idea of society in 1984?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, and it was not so much a work of science fiction as it was speculative fiction, using the premise of a Western democratic society (Britain) falling victim to ultra-liberal (communism) or ultra-conservative (Nazism) regimes.  In other words, he did not intend this society to necessarily exist in 1984; it could have existed as soon as 1948 (if the communists might have won the Cold War that early, let's say).

The society in 1984 is governed by fear (first half) and pain (second half).  Fear is managed by censorship, propaganda, government-controlled mass media, rationing, police-state surveillance and profiling, mandatory extremist nationalism, and a war against family and education (Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Truth).  Pain is managed by institutional torture (Ministry of Love), brainwashing and reconditioning, and the murder of political dissidents.

We are not seeing this society whole-scale in Western democratic governments, but are seeing it in small-scale, especially in mass media.  Currently, Google and Facebook profile in greater numbers than even Orwell could have imagined; the irony, of course, is that most of us don't mind it.  In fact, we all but consent to it because we feel it is contributing to a group database or network.  We have agreed to give up certain individual rights to privacy so that we can, in a sense, be victims of and play the role of Big Brother.  We like voyeurism as much as the Secret Police: just look at reality TV programming!

Currently, Britain is a police-state: their country has cameras on nearly every street corner, and they recently used face-detection technology to find and indict the looters in the London riots.

We have seen torture in our country's War against Terror: waterboarding, Abu Ghraib prison (Iraq), Guantanamo Bay prison (Cuba).  Many have justified excessive force in capturing and killing the terrorists of 9/11.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We don't suffer the same level of material deprivation of Outer Party members and the proles in 1984; in fact, many areas experience a high level of material comfort. Also, we don't live in socialist totalitarian regimes, where the government owns the means of production. 

However, Orwell was prescient about two items that plague us in the modern world. The first is surveillance. Not only have we learned that the government engaged in illegal domestic spying on US citizens after 9/11/2001, we know that we are also legally under surveillance in many ways. Data is collected about citizens based on our internet searches and purchases. Some department stores record our conversations by putting computer equipment inside mannequins that send the data to a cloud for analysis. This is used to gauge user reactions to displays. Most of this is not really evil, but it is present, and the information it yields could conceivably be used against us or to manipulate us.

Orwell was also centrally concerned with the dumbing down of language. This can be seen in the way Newspeak in the novel is gradually winnowing words from the language. Without language, sophisticated thought is difficult or impossible. In our culture, many people are functionally illiterate, meaning they can't read past a third grade level. Thus, many sites use a word checker to make sure vocabulary beyond a sixth grade level is not used. In politics, complex ideas are reduced to simplistic slogans. This all could be indicative of our language becoming more and more reductive.

drdanbuck | Student

Orwell was prescient in his depiction of the Telescreen, a 2-way video device that monitored the behavior of its owner. Like Ray Bradbury's TV Parlor, it predicted the interactivity of the Internet. While Bradbury focused on the social media aspect, Orwell saw only the opportunity for the government to monitor every detail of a person's life--something that is now possible due to the fact that so many detail's of a citizen's life are recoreded for all posterity through transactions carried out online.

Socialogically, Orwell missed the boat entirely. No society on earth is totally Orwellian, although North Korea probably comes the closest. Yet it is an isolated rougue state, not one of the three superpowers as Orwell depicted. Yes, the government is able to monitor the most minute details of our lives, but it doesn't use that information to control society--nor can it ever, as long as any constitutional freedoms remain.