This suggests a frighteningly pliable nature of the human mind, when it is brought up from cradle to grave to believe certain ideas. Corporations are even accorded the legal status of 'people' in current American society and can support political candidates. 1984 suggests that bureaucratic institutions are so overwhelming they can change language and create new false 'truths' -- and corporations are not necessarily different than the government in their ability to do so.

Within our own society, thanks to the expansion of social media, we are also seeing a shift in the way in which privacy is redefined which is fundamentally not orchestrated by the government. Although arguably since the passage of the Homeland Security Act after the attacks of 9/11, the federal government has been more aggressive in monitoring the actions of every citizen, what is even more surprising is the extent to which people are willing to share their lives voluntarily on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. In doing so, they enable companies to more accurately monitor their buying behaviors in a Big Brother fashion. This can be seen every time you go online shopping -- compare the prices of a few pairs of shoes, and ads for the shoes will 'follow' you around the web, clearly showing a kind of 'intelligence' in how one's behavior is being monitored.

In contrast to the citizens of 1984, consumers are willing to make all aspects of their private lives public, presumably to gain a sense of social connection with others. In 1984, true sociability, such as what exists between Winston and Julia, is shown to exist in private, but today unless something is proclaimed on Facebook, there is a question as to whether it is truly relevant. (There is a jokey meme which reads: 'that workout was pointless because I forgot to include it in my status update'). Despite the fact that it could be potentially dangerous to 'check in' with Foursquare that you were dining at a Starbucks on 5th Avenue, if someone was stalking you or wondering if your apartment was unoccupied, or the fact that potential employers can check your Facebook profile picture to see who your friends are and what you like to do in your spare time, people continue to expose themselves, with no specific outside prompting. In 1984, Winston Smith is fighting for a private life, but today people seem to be fighting to give theirs up. Through the use of language, images, and automatic monitoring of our behaviors through voluntarily chosen technology like an iPhone, there is no need for corporations to try very hard to monitor us.

Identity is very pliable in the new online world -- just as Emmanuel Goldstein becomes a demon when at once he was a saint, negative information can spread very quickly today. The pliability of information in the virtual age and the ease with which we can delete information would also be envied by those in control over the society depicted in 1984. Smith has a job in which he must rewrite official documents and media, to suit the prevailing opinions of the leadership. Today, unwanted information can more easily be edited or deleted if it does not suit the ever-changing view of our recent historical past. People can recreate themselves continually anew by creating new profiles of themselves; corporations can delete embarrassing advertisement; politicians can instantaneously counter attacks rather than wait for the media. The flip side, of course, which is different from 1984 and which is somewhat 'self-correcting' is that if another user wishes to disseminate negative information, like embarrassing photos, he or she can do so, and the user can lose control over his or her image and privacy. While today's environment seems to be democratic in regards to the fluidity of information rather than totalitarian, our inability to understand or monitor the mechanisms which encourage us to 'share' information calls into question the control of users over the process.


Orwell, George. (1950). 1984. Signet Classics.

Orwell, George. (1946). Politics and…