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From digital surveillance to dystopia

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Who remembers the year 1984?

I do. I graduated from Spaulding Elementary School in Spring Hope in the spring and started seventh grade at Southern Nash Junior High in the fall. The Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl, Ronald Reagan destroyed Walter Mondale, Houston lost the NCAA championship for the second year in a row and the Detroit Tigers beat the Padres four games to one in the World Series.

Movie grand slams at the box office included titles such as “Ghostbusters,” “Footloose,” “The Karate Kid” and “Purple Rain.” It was also the year that a book by the same title, “1984,” was to take place. In the book, we are introduced to a technologically advanced world in which fear is used as a tool for manipulating and controlling individuals who do not conform to the prevailing political orthodoxy. Sound familiar?

Today’s political environment from both sides of the aisle is a massive lack of civil discourse where the vast majority of us sticks hard to our corners and refuses to hear anything the other party has to say, the start of the slippery slope toward totalitarianism. One could argue the author of “1984,” George Orwell, missed the mark by more than three decades — or did he?

The culprit that started the polarization of our country is sitting in your home, your office, your pocket maybe even on your wrist. In our quest for a connected world and all its many advantages, we forgot to maintain a civil world, which could be our downfall. This connectivity really started to gain momentum in — you guessed it — 1984.

1984 saw a dramatic increase in sales for the TRS-80 from Tandy and introduced us to the very first Apple Macintosh in January, which provided many consumers their first look at a graphical user interface that would eventually replace the home computer as it was known at the time. We have been chasing connectivity, wanting more and more at faster and faster speeds, until we became obsessed with these little devices that we walk around with — little devices that track our every move, and even sometimes listen to what we are saying.

Our devices can monitor our every move, right down to our pulse rate, and if you think Alexa doesn’t hear and send back everything you say around it, then you are not paying attention — Amazon already admitted that she hears everything and tracks consumer patterns in your own home to better tailor advertising to what you already want.

Maybe Big Brother didn’t have a mustache at all — maybe it was a USB cord that just looked like a mustache.

Every time you go for a ride, I promise you Google goes with you — and then asks you to review everything you passed. With social media and the desire to be more and more automated in our lives, we don’t seem to realize we are no longer living our lives. We are staring at a screen and it is living our life for us.

Through smart devices, social media and even our own tendency to never actually read what we are sharing in the privacy policy, we are slowly and steadily headed toward Oceana.

Those of you who have read the book might remember another date that is included in the book — 2050 — the year that everyone will only understand Newspeak, the only accepted language. Remember that the next time you type the letter LOL or ROFL or any other made-up abbreviation that everyone suddenly now knows what it means.

Maybe “1984” wasn’t so farfetched after all. Maybe we need to start placing emphasis back on human interaction and less on the road to Oceana.

Mark Cone is owner and operator of SouthernNashNews.com.

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