Welcome to a world where humans are constantly under surveillance. Where designer children are genetically selected, drones hover the skies, companies implant microchips in their employees, and artificial intelligence poses a direct challenge to our own. Big Data, Big Brother exposes just how closely today’s reality mirrors two of the most well-known dystopian novels of the 20th century: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984.
Featuring rich archives and contributions from some of the most influential minds around today, including Orwell’s son Richard Blair, Big Data, Big Brother leads us through the premonitions of the two authors’ imaginations to question society today
Brave New World
Brave New World is a dystopian social science fiction novel by English author Aldous Huxley, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State, whose citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story’s protagonist. Huxley followed this book with a reassessment in essay form, Brave New World Revisited (1958), and with his final novel, Island (1962), the utopian counterpart. The novel is often compared to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (published 1949).
In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World at number 5 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2003, Robert McCrum, writing for The Observer, included Brave New World chronologically at number 53 in “the top 100 greatest novels of all time”, and the novel was listed at number 87 on The Big Read survey by the BBC. Despite this, Brave New World has frequently been banned and challenged since its original publication. It has landed on the American Library Association list of top 100 banned and challenged books of the decade since the association began the list in 1990.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (also stylised as 1984) is a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale written by English writer George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime. Thematically, it centres on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behaviours within society. Orwell, a democratic socialist, modelled the totalitarian government in the novel after Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. More broadly, the novel examines the role of truth and facts within politics and the ways in which they are manipulated.
The story takes place in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism, and propaganda. Great Britain, known as Airstrip One, has become a province of the totalitarian superstate Oceania, ruled by the Party, who employ the Thought Police to persecute individuality and independent thinking. Big Brother, the dictatorial leader of Oceania, enjoys an intense cult of personality, manufactured by the party’s excessive brainwashing techniques. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a diligent and skillful rank-and-file worker and Outer Party member who secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion. He enters into a forbidden relationship with his colleague Julia and starts to remember what life was like before the Party came to power.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a classic literary example of political and dystopian fiction. It also popularised the term “Orwellian” as an adjective, with many terms used in the novel entering common usage, including “Big Brother”, “doublethink”, “Thought Police”, “thoughtcrime”, “Newspeak”, and “2 + 2 = 5”. Parallels have been drawn between the novel’s subject matter and real life instances of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and violations of freedom of expression among other themes. Time included the novel on its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005, and it was placed on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list, reaching number 13 on the editors’ list and number 6 on the readers’ list. In 2003, it was listed at number eight on The Big Read survey by the BBC.