In the 1949 dystopian novel, Nineteen Eight-Four or 1984, written by George Orwell “Big Brother” is a fictional character or symbol claiming to be the leader of the totalitarian state Oceania. Throughout the novel the oppressed people of Oceania are reminded that “Big Brother is watching” and he is watching to monitor their behavior “for their own sake.” While the term “Big Brother” has entered the English lexicon as a representation of the governments abuse of power or threats on civil liberties through mass surveillance, I want to ask, have we ourselves become Big Brother? And if so, is this development such a bad thing?
It is true that many people question our loss of privacy due to the proliferation of surveillance cameras in both public spaces and private companies. And based on information leaked by people such as Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange it is clear that various government agencies are collecting our private information and this is a cause for concern.
However, increasingly technology is being used by average citizens to ferret out bad behavior by other average citizens. And with the increased use and access to social media these isolated incidents of bad behavior have become the topic of conversation for the nation and the world. This exposure has increased conversations in the media and for many in their daily lives topics such as race, racism, white privileged, gender equality, and marriage equality.
Would the racist chants of fraternity brothers at the University of Oklahoma have sparked discussion of racism on college campuses with out that 9 second video? Clearly not.
Whole sites on the internet have been created for citizens to post video of what they believe to be police brutality. See for example: http://www.policebrutality.info/category/videos
And the list goes on. You can easily find examples of homophobic abuse, gender inequality, sexual harassment on the streets of New York and elsewhere, and it’s all caught on tape. Some of these cases “go viral” and become the topic of larger conversations, some do not.
Now the real question, is this a bad thing? If these exposures provoke conversations on difficulty subjects isn’t that a move in the right direction? Can these conversations lead to actual change? Only time will tell.
Nonetheless, the genie has been released from the bottle. Anyone and everyone should assume that the things you do both in public and in your private residence are being watched by “Big Brother.” The only difference with reality and Orwell’s novel is that we are now all “Big Brother,” we are all “watching you.”