Nineteen Eighty-Four, a Novel

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Nineteen Eighty-Four, a Novel

By George Orwell
Harcourt, 1949
314 pp.
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From its publication after the war, Nineteen Eighty-Four conjured up a political nightmare so vivid that it succeeded in introducing new words like "doublethink," "Big Brother," and "thought police" into the general English vocabulary. This dark work of political science fiction combined fears of technology with fears of totalitarian power. Orwell, the pseudonym of Eric Blair, imagined a world in which a "telescreen" in every home linked the citizens of Oceania to a brooding Ministry of Truth, where the latter could monitor their every thought and action, and rouse them to heights of war frenzy against the denizens of Eastasia and Eurasia. And yet, as Peter Huber has pointed out in his parody Orwell's Revenge (1994), the "telescreen" as described by Orwell is, technically speaking, nothing other than the networked personal computer. The wiring together of a significant part of the planet proved to be a process that could not be controlled by centralized authoritarian states. Indeed, it turned out that the spread of inexpensive electronic technology tended to disperse rather than concentrate power, and that that technology could best be developed in societies that permitted their citizens the freedom to think, own property, and communicate with one another as they wished.