1984 and the surveillance society

"Big Brother is watching you!" is George Orwell's most famous line from Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this dystopian novel, society in an imaginary future is controlled by an ubiquitous government. You don't need to have read the book to know the concept; it has become part of popular culture. But has the surveillance society as Orwell describes it in the book also become reality?

It is almost impossible to discuss 1984 without making a connection to the present day, in which surveillance is widely used – for example by means of mobile phones, surveillance cameras and the ‘bonuskaart’ at the Albert Heijn supermarket. Is Big Brother watching us? And who is Big Brother in today's society? Is the reference to 'Big Brother' appropriate when we talk about the Covid-19 app that countries are launching? What lessons can we learn for the possible use of such devices to contain the coronary pandemic? And if the app gets there, will we ever get rid of it? 

  • About the speaker

    Vivien Butot is doing his PhD research at Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) for the Centre for BOLD (Big Open and Linked Data) Cities, in which he focuses on the relationship between developments in the field of smart cities and privacy. For Studium Generale he recorded a podcast on whether or not 1984 is a good metaphor for the surveillance society as we know it today. Or did Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and Franz Kafka (The Trial) had a better foretelling ability? Listen to the podcast below, or listen on Spotify.

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