Everybody has heard of George Orwell’s 1984, the book that carved a disturbing place for itself in our collective psyche by the fascinating portrayal of a totalitarian regime that watched its people at all times and even made thought, a crime.
1984 was a very significant year, not because it wasn’t anything like what George Orwell had warned us about, but because it was the year of the beginning of the new world. The year when that first breakthrough was made that made computing personal and eventually a tool of freedom. It was the year when Apple Macintosh, the first personal computer with the now ubiquitous graphic interface and mouse was launched.
I don’t know if the visionaries of that age had any idea how important that tool would become for freedom, but Apple’s advertisement for the Macintosh now looks very serendipitous.
It showed a woman hurling a hammer onto a screen showing a big brother like image, and breaking it. The personal computer would become a tool for just that, breaking dictatorships and fighting oppression everywhere.
As we slowly make our way through 2013 I sometimes hear people worry about things like privacy and the enhanced capability of the government to monitor everybody, and I have a private little laugh. The days when the government really had the capability to watch people, hide facts, and carry out clandestine operations were in 1984 when spy organizations were having a field day and ‘covert’ really meant something.
The advancements in communication technology have made monitoring easier, but more than that it has made it much easier to monitor the monitors. For the people to exchange information and facts outside of a government controlled network, and to take collective action against any injustice perpetrated by the government or by its negligence. If someone’s really alarmed by technology and jumping right now, it’s the government and not the people.
No matter how many cameras the government installs on the streets, how many IPs it monitors, how many networks it sniffs, how many caps it puts on SMS exchanges, it doesn’t stand a chance against a society which has a camera in every hand and the means to send data to anyone in the world instantly.
So today when a policeman beats up a woman in the streets of Ludhiana he will be filmed and then fired and no news network will be needed to carry this news or to show that clip to have that impact. The people have adopted the tools and taken the matters in their hands. They are not dependent on the newsmakers, they decide what gets on news and when they’ve made their decision no amount of nudging or pushing will stop the newscasters from making it the headline.
If there was a battle for control between the government and the people it’s already lost. Each new computer sold, smartphone used and Internet connection connected insures that. There is a reason why more than 25% of India’s population now owns a mobile phone even when they don’t have some other basic facilities of life. It’s because in their intuitive intelligence they realize that communication is the first step towards freedom which will lead to a better life.
The right to be informed, and to inform is now an inalienable right for the people even though it’s not granted by any constitution. It’s a right that has been engraved in stone in the minds of those who practice it and they will not let anyone take it away. Whenever the governments do anything to dilute this right they will face fierce opposition and they will jump and back down.
The difference between the handling of the protests against rape in Delhi is a perfect example. Last time the government came down with force trying to prevent protestors from accumulating and using force against them. It backfired terribly. This time they had learnt their lesson and even while they made their usual gaffes they handled the situation with much more care. The protestors were not barred from accumulating, instead they were supplied facilities like drinking water and from the government’s side there were attempts to inform the protestors what they were doing to prevent such incidents. They made statements and distributed pamphlets. It helped that they were able to arrest the criminals very quickly and that the condition of the victim is much better now.
The government can’t put any sort of bars on social media and it seems to me that they’re now refocusing their energies on participating instead of stopping. That’s why the Congress Party of India; the political party that is in power in India right now, felt it necessary to create a fund for social media. They hope to use it to put their view across and that to me is a very proactive step because it will put them directly in touch with the real people and get them feedback that’s not filtered by agencies and individuals who have vested interest in maintaining the delusion that all is well.
It was a most wonderful 1984 and I feel every successive year is going to be a bit more wonderful as people use their voice to assert themselves more powerfully and make the governments jump again, and again… and again.