So, I’ve just read Nineteen Eighty-four. Not because Trump is using ‘alternative facts’ and unintentionally making the book sell out on Amazon. Frankly, I just wanted to read for some time already. And having read it, I’d like to talk about the other, non-political, side of the book: the tech.
Beware: full spoiler territory ahead.
A world of two devices
In the world depicted by George Orwell, The Party (a political party that governs a large part of the world) controls all forms of information. It controls the past, present and future. The only thing you have to yourself are your personal thoughts. To make sure that you don’t have or share any bad thoughts, they’ve created two devices: the telescreen and the speakwrite.
The telescreen is a device that’s omnipresent, it’s (almost) everywhere. You can’t hide from it. This device monitors what you do with a camera and what you say with a microphone, all in one convenient television-like device. At any time a Party member can watch you and speak to you. But most of the times it’s used to broadcast ‘normal’ television stuff (Party propaganda).
Besides the telescreen there’s the speakwrite. This device is the only way to get information onto paper. And it’s another way The Party makes sure that all information flows through their systems. Now you might think “I’ll just write something down”, but that’s a bad idea.
In the world of 1984, there’s the Thought Police. If you do anything suspicious (e.g. writing down your thoughts down on paper!) your flagged. And if you’re flagged, you’ll be monitored closely. And soon enough, you’ll be vaporised.
Where are we in 2017?
Reading about the technologies in 1984 made me think:
isn’t this stuff integrated into our everyday lives already?
Think about your mobile phone. It’s a device with a screen, camera and microphone. It’s always connected to the internet. It’s capable of looking into (if it’s out of your pocket) and eavesdropping on our lives at any given moment. It can send data to a service we’re unaware of (NSA files anyone?). And besides the unwanted tracking that might or might not be happening, we upload a lot of what we do to the web ourselves. And with the rise of the conversational interface, we’ll soon be talking to our precious phones.
Basically, we voluntarily take a telescreen and speakwrite everywhere we go.
The value of data security & encryption
Now I think it’s not as bad as I describe it (though I won’t be surprised if that’s a really naive thought). I do think that encryption is what keeps our smartphones from becoming a ‘mobile eye for Big Brother’. It’s one thing for the Facebooks of our world say the keep our data safe. But making sure it keeps that way is another thing.
The question I ask myself is: will encryption keep up?