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  • George Orwell was born as Eric Blair in 1903.

  • The name George Orwell - his pen name -

  • was something that was invented to be as English sounding as possible.

  • Orwell is a river that runs through Suffolk,

  • and George is that quintessentially English name.

  • So Orwell is kind of a created self.

  • He is a version of himself that he puts across in all of his writing -

  • in his essays, in his journalism.

  • In a way, the character of George Orwell is kind of similar to how we

  • today curate our online identity, particularly in social media.

  • Like most people of his generation, Orwell was fascinated by technology

  • and what technology could do, without ever having any clear idea

  • of what it actually practically consisted of.

  • Just after the Second World War, for example, he was given, or bought,

  • one of the very first biros, which had just been invented.

  • And Orwell thought, I think,

  • that this was a kind of miraculous invention.

  • Orwell's novel 1984 is full of technology, and what technology

  • can do to help oppressive systems work their evil, basically.

  • The principle controlling device, the telescreen, has this extraordinary

  • ability to monitor people as they go about their daily lives,

  • and literally spy on almost everything they do.

  • But there were also a few spaces where these telescreens don't exist -

  • in working class areas of London, for example, in the parole pub.

  • If only that were true in the contemporary world.

  • There's no real escaping from our interactions with screens

  • on a daily basis - it's almost impossible not to look at one.

  • One thing that's different about Orwell's most famous book, 1984,

  • and the present, is that in 1984 the state controls all the media

  • and all the messaging that citizens interact with.

  • In the present day, there's a much more diverse landscape in terms of

  • how things are reported, and the fact that we can all, with smartphones

  • in our pockets, type about what's going on in front of us

  • and post videos online, is an important distinction to be made.

  • This said, there are states who try to suppress people talking about

  • things online, and we see this all over the world.

  • Some recent examples might be in Kashmir, where there's been a media

  • blackout, and in Xinjiang, in China.

  • If he were alive today, it's perfectly conceivable that Orwell

  • would have been sifting through social media, with the idea of

  • writing some kind of structural analysis of how it worked,

  • in much the same way that 70, 80 years before, he would write essays about

  • the kind of magazines that teenage boys read in their spare time.

  • Orwell, in a way is like the curation of our digital selves today.

  • Part of the character of George Orwell that he creates is to be

  • a truth teller - to tell it down the line.

  • To tell it like it is.

  • Orwell may have been troubled by the way in which mistruths

  • and lies and even innocent mistakes can spread so quickly

  • on social media, out of control.

  • Technology enables this.

  • It's very easy with a smartphone, or with Twitter and social media

  • to sow a seed of disquiet - to seed an untruth

  • into people's consciousness.

  • Orwell was obsessed with the idea of future worlds, the shape of things

  • to come, and obviously the part that technology would play in enabling

  • those worlds to exist and function.

George Orwell was born as Eric Blair in 1903.

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Would George Orwell have had a smartphone? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2020/07/30
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