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Oceania by George Orwell

Many readers have labeled George Orwell’s work as a piece of fantasy, having little or no practical value at all. However, in light of the latest events, people are forced to re-think their conclusions. It should be born in mind that Orwell never saw the events described in 1984 as being fictional. Soon after writing 1984, Orwell passed away, and his book was a kind of warning to people about the heinous and insidious nature of totalitarian governments. The common principle and denominator of Orwell’s work is the fact that in totalitarian governments the state is considered a supreme and sacred entity that should be served with undivided loyalty. To effectively ensure that people are loyal to the state, the Big Brother government was tasked with the overall authority of divesting all forms of individual privacy. This was the essence of government’s surveillance (Hillegas 1967). 

Various forms of surveillance were employed by the Big Brother to ensure that Oceania’s citizens were committed to serving the state. One of the fundamental tools of surveillance was the Telescreens, or television and security cameras, that were installed in every room and house. These screens were at the core of security surveillance that ensured continuous check on citizens to prevent any possible revolt against Oceania. The Telescreens were a mandatory requirement for the two groups of people, as defined by the party. These were inner party members who occupied the upper stratum of the society, and the outer party (middle-class) members who were viewed as a possible threat to the Big Brother government. However, the proles (lower-class) were exempted from acquiring the Telescreens, since they could not afford to purchase them (Steinhoff 1975). The proles were seen as week and lacking the machinery to revolt against the state.

The central concept used by the Big Brother government was the panopticon principle, which generally means that the few were tasked with the role of surveying the majority. The panoptic nature of the Telescreens even ensured that the actions and thoughts of society members were continuously checked to avoid deviation from the Oceanic requirements. One resounding quality of the Oceanic Telescreens is that they were highly sensitive. In fact, they were so sensitive that they could capture any sound made, no matter how low-pitched it was. Secondly, the Telescreens worked in such a manner that the citizens had no knowledge of the actual time they were being surveyed (Shelden 1991).   

The Telescreens had a lot in common with modern-day surveillance cameras, such as the famous CCTVs. Though Orwell died a long time ago, his fantasy about the Big Brother surveillance is real in the modern world. Surveillance cameras are currently being used on a larger scale than at any other time in the history of the world. We see cameras used by law enforcement officers to restore law and order, to take a toll on road speeders, to bring sanity in super highways. Even toll booths have been used extensively to photograph people and their cars (Steinhoff 1975).

One big similarity between modern-day surveillance cameras and the Oceanic Telescreens is that they are both capable of working continuously throughout the day. The Oceanic Telescreens operate continuosly, except in the night. However, the power to capture thoughts and intentions of individuals makes them overcome the night hurdle. Modern-day surveillance cameras also have the capacity to survey on a twenty hour basis, hence their ability to record any incident at any time of the day and night. The second similarity between the two surveillance cameras lies in the fact that they depended on personnel for their safe operations. For the Oceanic Telescreens, the thought police ensured that no information regarding an individual’s actions is omitted, including their thoughts. For the modern day surveillance cameras, there are technologists that keep an eye on the records of the camera to determine any suspicious action (Hillegas 1967).

Significant differences also exist between the two cameras that range from the mode of operation to the general design. In terms of design, the Oceanic Telescreens are meant for a particular class of people in the society. That is, they are designed for the inner and outer party members who by virtue of capitalism are the people that matter the most in the society. The proles, also defined as the lower class members, were exclusively omitted from the design, because Orwell saw them as ineffective and being unable to stage any revolt against the Big Brother government. This constitutes a complete difference to the modern day surveillance cameras that are not designed for a particular group in the society, but to survey everybody regardless of status (Hillegas 1967).

Another difference between the two surveillance systems is that the Oceanic Telescreens had the capacity to capture human thoughts and conscience, while modern-day surveillance cameras cannot. The thought surveillance under the Oceanic cameras is aided by the thought policemen, who are trained to capture human thoughts, even when regular Telescreens are off. The modern-day camera lacks such a capacity, and as such we may treat the Oceanic Telescreens as a mere fantasy that cannot be actualized. It is hard to discern human thoughts by using technology, although technology is being constantly refined. Such an ability is left to the supernatural beings like God, who is able to read and understand the thoughts of everybody (Hillegas 1967). 

The difference between surveillance cameras also lies in the motive behind their creation. Except creating security for the nation, the Oceanic Telescreens surveillance was also meant to prevent people from revolting against a political institution. As it has already been mentioned, the concept of Oceanic surveillance is a direct redress to the sanctity of the state. That is, it is meant to counter any thought aimed at revolting against the state, so that immediate action can be made to quell that possibility. However, quelling a political revolt does not seem to be the reason behind the invention of modern-day surveillance cameras .Companies, households, and various institutions install CCTV cameras mainly to ensure security of those entities. More so, the modern world has been revolutionized by the democratic governance such that political transition usually happens after a given period of time. Therefore, the necessity of reading people’s thoughts to determine the possibility of a revolt has no place in the current CCTV surveillance (West 1992).

There is another significant difference in terms of the number of functions performed by each surveillance screens. The Telescreens in the Oceanic surveillance performed more than one duty of surveying people against any possible motive of revolt against the Big Brother government. The Telescreens were also used to serve the same purpose as modern-day televisions do. That is they are used to broadcast news to the citizens of Oceania. Interestingly, the kinds of broadcasts aired through the Telescreens are geared towards perpetuating the status quo of the Oceanic government. For instance, the broadcasters aired a large number of false reports to suit the incumbent government, exaggerated news about Oceania’s military victories and supplied wrong figures about the country’s economic conditions in favor of the government. All the false news is further worsened by the two-minute airing of hate speech. In general, Orwell saw the Telescreens used to perpetuate the repressive regimes of the Oceanic government. However, modern-day surveillance cameras are mostly used for security purposes and not for broadcasting in favour of the incumbent government (West 1992).

The difference between the two surveillance systems can also be depicted in their night vision capacity. George Orwell never foresaw the possibility of night vision surveillance cameras, such as the ones currently used. Modern CCTVs, for instance, are made in such a way as to be able to capture images even during the nighttime. Despite the fact that Orwell’s surveillance cameras were designed to capture human thoughts, they could not be used during nighttime to relay images of citizens. This, therefore, can be seen as a difference between Orwell’s Telescreens and modern-day surveillance cameras. 

By analyzing the differences between Orwell’s fantasy and real surveillance cameras in the contemporary world, one can conclude that there are more differences than similarities. However, one thing stands out throughout Orwell’s work, that is, though he was fantasizing about the Oceanic world, he was perfectly within the box. In fact, Orwell can be considered as one of the greatest prophets ever born. His work has gained particular prominence in various religious quarters, with some, such as the End of the Times, using his book as a justification for various prophetic phrases in the Bible. That is, they use this book to predict or justify that the end of the world is surely a reality. It is to be understood that when Orwell was writing the book, he never had any idea that such a thing would happen. But today, the world has been revolutionized by CCTV surveillance, although the reason for that is different from what Orwell hypothesized.          

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