Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel by George Orwell published in 1949. It presents a dystopian existence in the fictional state of Oceania, a nation where society is tyrannized by the ruling Party and its totalitarian ideology. The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control. At the time of the books publication, the notion of state surveillance was a chilling prospect for westerners, one that was being lived out in Stalinist Russia and in Communist East Germany.

Today, by contrast, societal norms have changed and surveillance has become a central aspect of social, technological and entertainment experiences. It is both a serious security issue and a playful part of mediated relationships. In the late 20th century the language of “surveillance society” was popularized but now the outlines of “surveillance cultures” are emerging. The former term indicated a shift beyond state monitoring; surveillance was becoming a general societal experience. “Surveillance cultures” refers to various ways that surveillance becomes a way of life. Surveillance still happens in government, policing, intelligence and commerce but it is also hard-wired into streets and buildings, wirelessly present in smart phones and the internet. It has also been democratised for mass participation through social media.

Surveillance practices are understood through popular culture and are reproduced through surveillant imaginaries. This complicates our understanding of and our responses to surveillance. To understand this we have to consider three things: First, what brought us to today’s situation? Second, what global trends inform surveillance change? Third, what local particularities shape our own experiences?

Culture of surveillance

In the final scenes of the 2006 German drama film The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen) the protagonist visits the Stasi Archives to discover the extensive surveillance records of his own activities compilled by Stasi opperatives during the German Democratic Republic. So extensive are the files on him that others in the viewing room are seen to stare at him in a mix of disapproval or curious admiration. Watching this, I thought wouldn’t it be cool to read through what people had written about me – observing my actions and interactions, a huge record of my actions and interactions. These were sentiments I later realised were shared by many other viewers of the film.

Also a product of the cold war, this is what facebook is. A dossier of our lives and the lives of others.
An article in Das Speigel revealed that:” In the last year, tens of thousands of people have headed to the Birthler Authority to finally take a look at what their Stasi files contain. Interest has been so high, in fact, the waiting list is now two years long.”
Files on eachother.
Rather than getting friends and neightbours to spy on eachother the Orwellian dystopia of cold war east has in the west been transformed into a Huxlian Brave New World where personal data is volunteered by people. People are paying to be tracked and tracking friends all data that is catalogued.
The internet has become more useful as a cold war tool in the present than it ever could have imagined during its invention during the cold war.
“Secrets…are the very root of cool.”

Stasi archives

The lives of others – 2.03.
In thnis scene the films protagonist, a man who had operated as a subversive play write during the communist rule in East Germany discoveres that his activities had been monitored by the Stasi for years. After the fall of the berlin wall, rather than destro all the information collected, the germans decided to keep it all, making it freely available to those on who the files were kept.
What is important here is the heroics with which the large files on him are seen.
We like the collection of data on ourselves.

The cultural ideology has changed.
Once it was socially required that our lives to be private – today our lives are expected to be public.
this is done through facebook, blogs and other social networks, through reality tv shows in which participants lives are monitored, confessional shows, Oprah, Dr Phil, Judge Judy, and even through technologies such as mobile phones in which we openly discuss the details of our private lives in public spaces. People who speak loudly on mobile phones are subscribing to this culture, they are unknowingly and knowingly projecting their private lives on to the lives of others.


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