1984: Controlling the Past, Present and Future

βœ¨πŸ“– Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell πŸ“–βœ¨

I’ve read George Orwell’s 1984 once before, and I read it recently again. The book is a pop culture staple – but the hype around it doesn’t do it justice. It’s a beautifully written tale of dystopian London in 1984, that has been taken over by a totalitarian government: “English Socialism” or Ingsoc.

George Orwell’s 1984.

The story follows Winston Smith, as he goes about his life in 1984’s London. London is ruled by the Party and Big Brother. Winston’s life – and everyone else’s for that matter – is always under surveillance: at work, around town, and even in his own apartment, where Alexa a telescreen, looks into every corner of it and can never be turned off.

The book starts when Winston secretly finds an empty notebook in the streets. Winston uses the notebook as a diary, and away from the telescreen’s watch, writes. This is where, according to him, he knew he would die. Writing out one’s thoughts is a very serious crime in 1984. A thought crime. 🧠πŸ”ͺ

I won’t go into the story’s plot, as I think that’s for everyone to explore on their own, but I will go into one quote that really resonated with me in the book. Throughout, Winston is nostalgic of a different time, a time before the Party, Big Brother, telescreens and thought crimes. A simpler time. I think that resonates with a lot of us in 2020 as well.

The time he longs for is only present in his memories – and even those are fleeting. The Party regularly redacts past publications and removes references to people, ideas and facts it does not currently agree with, to the point that they completely vanish from collective memory and are never spoken of again.

‘Who controls the past, controls the future:
who controls the present controls the past.’

George Orwell, 1984

This is one of the most impactful quotes from the book in my opinion. I’ve thought a lot about this notion as it relates to our modern-day life as well. My relationship to information is always at the mercy of whatever censoring / editing body is responsible for ‘clearing’ the information for publishing. Similarly, in the age of instant information and search engines, my relationship to information is always at the hands of said search engines choosing to index and deindex information.

You can always argue that these entities, at the present time, are good-natured and well-meaning. I will argue that that is true. However, we can never be certain that this will remain the same forever. Isn’t power a drug? I went down a thought-rabbit hole the other day where I realized that my perception of the past, is directly a reflection of what information I have access to, to recall it. In short, my perception of the past, is a reflection of what search engines choose to index on the topic. If a tree falls, and there are no Google results on it, did it really fall?

I would invite anyone and everyone to give 1984 a read – and a reread, if you’ve read it when you were younger. The topics explored are still very much relevant, especially today, in the age of smart-phones and Alexas. πŸ“±πŸ‘€πŸ”