1984 wasn't supposed to be a funny book, but I found the part where Winston and Julia were caught pretty amusing. "Now they can see us," said Julia. "Now we can see you," said the voice. It was like something out of a Sheckley book. That aside, I was profoundly affected by it. Most of the books I'd read at that point in my life had either happy endings, or optimistic ones. This book was a downer from the first page. I felt so bad for Winston, and for the whole society. And the thing was so internally consistent, so believable.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is that the contradictory slogans "War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery" turn out to have real meaning, as explained in Goldstein's book. At first, you think its just Ingsoc nonsense, but then it is explained to you that, in fact, a state of constant war can be viewed, from the perspective of the Government, as a kind of peace.
The real year 1984 came and went, and everyone was talking about this book. I felt smug that I'd already read it. But I did reread it, just because it seemed like the thing to do.
This book changed the way I interpret technological breakthroughs. There has been a lot of talk recently about people who implant microchips in their pets and their children, to make it easier to track them down if they are kidnapped. The new cars are going to have similar chips, to help us navigate those dark scary roads. If I had not read 1984, I probably would be thinking of these as positive developments. Now I think of how these technologies make it easier for the government to monitor where we are, and who we are associated with. Ben Franklin said, "People who are willing to give up their freedom in exchange for a little temporary safety deserve neither freedom nor safety." Orwell's book helped me, and millions of others no doubt, to see the threats to freedom that seemingly benign technology presents.
"Does Big Brother exist in the way that you or I exist?"
"You don't exist."
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