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1984: Surveillance in our Modern Age

1984: Surveillance in our Modern Age

It seems like hardly a day goes by where we don't hear about the topic of surveillance in the news. Government investigations, reports of state-of-the-art surveillance systems and concerns about privacy are just a few examples.

But this is hardly a new thing. For decades, people have had surveillance on their minds. One very notable example of this is Orson Well's Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1984). Way back in 1949 Wells wrote this futuristic dystopian novel and it seems more relevant now than ever.

Since 1984 has gotten a lot of publicity lately I thought it would be interesting to dig in and give you a brief overview of the novel and discuss some of the themes of surveillance in our modern age.

A Brief Summary of 1984

1984 takes place in Oceania, a fictional totalitarian state in what used to be the United Kingdom. It follows Winston Smith, a low-ranking worker of the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth. His job is to alter history and make it fit the need of the Party. The Party is an oppressive government that maintains rigid control over its citizens by constant surveillance and thought control. Winston becomes increasingly frustrated and illegally purchases a diary where he can write his thoughts, a highly illegal act. He meets Julia and they form a relationship that does not go unnoticed. These criminal acts bring Winston under the scrutiny of the oppressive Party as they try to make him conform.

Big Brother is Watching

You've probably heard the term "Big Brother". This phrase has become so popular that a it's become synonymous with abuse of government power, it's been featured in advertising  campaigns and even had a reality show where the contestants are under constant surveillance named after it! But it's origins are in fact, with this novel.

Big Brother is the leader in 1984, it's never clearly defined whether is a real person or simply a symbolism. But nonetheless, is a constant reminder to the people that they their every move is being monitored. Big Brother is describes as "a handsome man in his mid 40s" that appears on telescreens and posters reminding people "Big Brother is Watching".


Another notable element in 1984 is "Newspeak". Newspeak is the official language of Oceania. It is a controlled language designed to limit freedom of thought by simplifying complete thoughts into contractions. The political purpose of Newspeak was to reduce the language to simple concepts thus eliminating ambiguity and nuance. All standard words that implied negativity were removed and aided in further thought control of the people.


Doublethink is a part of Newspeak which entails simultaneously accepting two contradictory beliefs. The brainwashed citizens learn and use Newspeak and Doublethink due to peer pressure. Themes of truth are very prevalent in 1984 and have caused it to gain recent notoriety due to "fake news" and "alternative facts" flooding our newsfeeds.

A Modern Day Analysis

If you listened to our History of Surveillance Cameras podcast, you know surveillance cameras didn't even really start to be widely used until the sixties and seventies. I am so fascinating by Mr. Orwell's predictions into a future with surveillance state. There are so many parallels we see with 1984 and the world today, but what can we learn from it?

Obviously there's a ton of things we can learn from this novel, now more than ever. (If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it!) But, since we are a surveillance company I'll stick with that angle.

Surveillance cameras have undoubtedly become a valuable tool for businesses. We live in a dangerous world and they do add a measure of protection from those who wish to do harm. But while surveillance has benefits, it also has costs. So stay alert to privacy rights and keep yourself informed. And if you find yourself burdened by constant connectivity, do what you can to take a break from modern society!

Learn more about 1984.


Buy it online.