Oh how easily the behavior engineers soften us up! Not all that many years ago howls of outrage greeted closed circuit TV cameras when they made their appearance in public places.
Outrage didn’t stop their proliferation. Outrage changed to indifference and now that the CCTV monitors have been upgraded to issue orders to the public the reaction is one of bemusement. At least that’s how the papers in the United Kingdom are reporting the installation of talking CCTV cameras in city parks. Their purpose, so we are told, is to slash "anti-social behaviour." How? By issuing verbal reprimands to society’s miscreants.

"These [messages] will be ways of embarrassing people and reminding them. Someone being told off for dropping litter will respond in a reasonable way, and I believe most people will say sorry and do something about it. There will be some that won’t and, if the matter is serious, the police will follow it up."

Smoking a cigarette in a park is not yet a crime in Britain, although it is in too many American locations, but we know that soon it will be in Britain too and how handy these barking recorders will be in getting the message across that smoking is an anti-social behavior. The ubiquitous telecreens described in George Orwell’s 1984 bossed people around while providing non-stop propaganda as well as non-stop spying. Britian is moving right in on Orwell’s anti-utopia but the people seem oblivious.

"We want CCTV because it means people will use their parks and aren’t frightened to be there. People are asking for it. We have surveyed the whole city and the response is incredibly positive. We are not in a police state, we are in a democracy and people understand we are doing it for their safety. This will help make these places safe."

To build support from the masses a contest was held to mark the launch of the new spying/nagging devices. The contestants, needless to say, were school children. The 12 year old winner’s reward was an opportunity to sit in — yes, so described — "Big Brother’s chair" and tell off a litterer. How cute! How progressive we are!

Big Brother is no longer the symbol, as Orwell said, of "a boot stomping on a human face — forever" but is instead and indeed an all-seeing and benevolent older brother inviting a younger sibling onto his omniscient and omnipotent chair. Very lovely. We suspect the Orwellian arithmetic of 2+2=5 gets a pass in math class too.

Just how close is this to 1984? The novel’s closing paragraph describes ardent resister Winston Smith’s final collapse and capitulation as he gazes dazedly at a ubiquitous poster of Big Brother:

"He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

When you do that all is lost.



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