I HAVE just read the most disturbing news item I have come across in a long time.
I am beyond shocked… I am frightened for my children and my grandchildren.
I cough and allow my mind to drift to a peaceful place sitting in the summer sunshine on the north side of the Isle of Jura watching the sea wash white horses on the rocks below me.
Less than 300 yards to the south of where I am sitting is the isolated cottage known as Barnhill… this was the rented home of writer George Orwell, who lived there intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1950. Orwell completed his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four while living there.
It was a place I visited often during my two years living and working as a newspaper editor in the wilds of Argyll, in western Scotland, some 28 years ago.
Barnhill always held a fascination for me, because Nineteen Eighty-Four had remained my favourite novel since I was first mesmerised by Orwell’s vision of a future dystopian world as a raw 14-year-old. And I loved to imagine the views he must have taken in while writing that classic of English literature.
First published in 1948, yet set 36 years later, Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of Winston Smith, a citizen and ordinary member of the Outer Party.
Winston works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting and distorting history, under the dictator Big Brother.
But Winston is determined to remain human under inhuman circumstances and begins a diary. Yet telescreens are placed everywhere — in his home, in his cubicle at work, in the cafeteria where he eats, even in the bathroom stalls. His every move is watched. No place is safe.
One day, while at the mandatory Two Minutes Hate, Winston catches the eye of an Inner Party Member, O’Brien, whom he believes to be an ally. He also catches the eye of a dark-haired girl named Julia from the Fiction Department.
A few days later Julia secretly hands him a note that reads: “I love you.” Winston takes pains to meet her, and when they finally do, Julia draws up a plan whereby they can be alone.
Once alone in the countryside, Winston and Julia make love and begin their allegiance against the Party and Big Brother. They fall in love, and, while they know that they will someday be caught, they believe that the love and loyalty they feel for each other can never be taken from them.
Eventually, Winston and Julia confess to O’Brien, whom they believe to be a member of the Brotherhood (an underground organization aimed at bringing down the Party), their hatred of the Party.
O’Brien welcomes them into the Brotherhood with an array of questions and arranges for Winston to be given a copy of “the book,” the underground’s treasonous volume written by their leader, Emmanuel Goldstein.
Winston gets the book and takes it to the secure room where he reads it with Julia napping by his side. The two are disturbed by a noise behind a painting in the room and discover a telescreen. They are quickly dragged away and separated.
Winston finds himself deep inside the Ministry of Love, a prison with no windows, where he sits for days alone. Finally, O’Brien comes. Initially Winston believes that O’Brien has also been caught, but he soon realizes that O’Brien is there to torture him and break his spirit.
O’Brien spends the next few months torturing Winston in order to change his way of thinking — to employ the concept of doublethink, or the ability to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind and believe in them both.
Finally, O’Brien takes Winston to Room 101, the most dreaded room of all in the Ministry of Love, the place where prisoners meet their greatest fear. Winston’s greatest fear is rats. O’Brien places over Winston’s head a mask made of wire mesh and threatens to open the door to release rats on Winston’s face.
When Winston screams, “Do it to Julia!” he relinquishes his last vestige of humanity.
Winston is a changed man. He sits in the Chestnut Tree Café, watching the telescreens and agonizing over the results of daily battles on the front lines. He has seen Julia again. She, too, is changed, seeming older and less attractive. She admits that she also betrayed him. In the end, there is no doubt, Winston loves Big Brother.
Today, the year 1984 has long passed, but Orwell’s futuristic vision of hell on Earth remains.
Big Brother is now everywhere
- Mainstream newspapers and TV channels feed us daily propaganda – the “facts” the Establishment wish us to believe
- CCTV cameras are on every street corner and inside every store – yet we never know who is monitoring them
- Number Plate Recognition cameras are installed at almost every filling station and car park
- Sat Nav satellites pick-up every move of our car, van or truck
- Cookies and spyware follow every finger click we make on our PC or tablet
- Police DNA and fingerprint databases have more than 30% of adults logged on their files
- MSN, Messenger text messages and private phone calls are harvested by government snoopers at GCHQ
- Our employment, financial and residential history is catalogued in the finest detail by so-called credit reference agencies such as Equifax and Experian
Our lives are no longer secret… Big Brother knows all of us.
Which brings me back to beginning…
I stare again at the news item and in something which can only be described as Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Black Mirror the headline reads: Implanting Microchips for Convenience.
The article explains how plans are already being rolled out to implant a tiny microchip in people’s hand which could eventually replace the need for credit cards, car keys and much more.
And this dystopian world is almost upon us right now.
Micro-chipping is almost routine at the Swedish start-up hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and start-up members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.
The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.
“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter.
As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it.
“It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” he explains.
The technology in itself is not new.
Such chips are used as virtual collar plates for pets. Companies use them to track deliveries. It’s just never been used to tag employees on a broad scale before.
Epicenter and a handful of other companies are the first to make chip implants broadly available.
While biologically safe, the data generated by the chips can show how often an employee comes to work or what they buy. Unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, a person cannot easily separate themselves from the chip.
“Of course, putting things into your body is quite a big step to do and it was even for me at first,” said Mr Mesterton, remembering how he initially had had doubts.
“But then on the other hand, I mean, people have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart,” he said. “That’s a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices.”
Epicenter, which is home to more than 100 companies and some 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have them.
A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants.
And last year a company in Wisconsin has become the first in the USA to roll out microchip implants for all its employees.
The initiative, which is optional for employees at snack stall supplier Three Square Market (32M), implants radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in staff members’ hands in between their thumb and forefinger.
Once tagged with the implant 32M says its employees will be able to perform a range of common office tasks with an effortless wave of their hand.
“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals,” says 32M CEO, Todd Westby.
The chips make use of near-field communication (NFC), and are similar to ones already in use in things like contactless credit cards, mobile payment systems, and animal tag implants.
“It will happen to everybody,” says Noelle Chesley, 49, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“But not this year, maybe not my generation, but certainly that of my kids.”
But Gene Munster, an analyst at Loup Ventures, thinks embedded chips in human bodies is 50 years away.
“The idea of being chipped has too “much negative connotation today,” he says, but by 2067 “we will have been desensitized by the social stigma.”
So the next time your child has to stand in-line for an eye recognition device to pay for their school dinner, or the next time you use your finger print to log into your iPhone, remember the Isle of Jura and George Orwell’s words of warning.
Big Brother is watching you.