So I want you to think about something. Back in the 1940s a man called George Orwell wrote a book called 1984 in which Winston Smith railed against Big Brother, an all-knowing, all-watching tyrant who controlled everything people did, believed and thought. It’s chilling stuff. You should read it if you haven’t.
The thing is, though, that the point of the book was to envisage a terrifying future where man (or, you know, woman) is controlled, watched constantly. And a few years ago I got to thinking… are we making the world of 1984 come true? I mean, are we actually creating it ourselves?
Think about it. Our phones now track our movements. We tweet our every thought (or update our status on facebook instead). We photograph our food and post it online; we take selfies and ask strangers to ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ us. We ask strangers whether they like our clothes, approve of our interior design, think our scrap book is cool. There are children of five with their own facebook pages where every puke, every cry, has been carefully documented and published. And sure, it might not all be public. You might regularly hit the ‘private’ button. But who are we kidding here? You think it’s really private? You think someone can’t hack in? You think one day when you’re applying for a job at some big corporation they’re not going to have a team of people scrutinising your online presence to see if you’re the kind of person they really want to hire?
The truth is, there are no secrets any more. Not for most of us. But unlike Winston Smith we’ve chosen this environment. Because it’s fun. Because it’s easy. Because it’s nice to hook up with people.
But imagine if being ‘liked’ meant the difference between success and failure. Imagine if you had to update every fifteen minutes otherwise you’d be dragged off by the police. Imagine if you could be ‘followed’ not just on twitter, but everywhere; imagine cameras in bedrooms, on the street, in cafes, capturing you, beaming your image around the world. Imagine if you could update just by talking into the chip you’ve got implanted in your wrist; your own computer in front of your eyes which connects you to the world, acts as email, phone, bank card, house key. Imagine if the number of followers you had dictated how rich you were, how much things cost, which shops and clubs you could get into. Imagine if you’d do anything to get more followers. Imagine if the alternative was destitution.
And then imagine discovering that behind the safe, happy branding of the company is a man who is intent on controlling you, controlling everyone. Imagine you rebel, fight against this tyrant. And then imagine the plug being pulled, your chip being taken: no more followers, no identity, no money, no access, nothing. What would you do? Where would you go?
And does this world really sound like sci-fi, or could it be just around the corner?
This is the world of The System, my new book, out on 1 December. I hope you enjoy it…