Social media is a cage full of starved rats and all of us have our heads stuck in there now, like it or not.
Orwell created a future nearly half a century away from the time period in which he was writing. This future had to be its own complex, independent society, but it also had to be the natural end result of the totalitarianism Orwell witnessed in the communist and socialist regimes of World War II. That’s part of the horror of 1984: this future is a recognizable one, even in the 21st century.
As a Chinese, luckily I was born in the 90s and didn’t have to live through the Great Cultural Revolution like my older family members did in the 1970s: my grandparents were assigned to arrest/clear the “right” people; my uncles (musician) got monitored and tortured; my dad was hiding under his bedsheets in midnight trying to have a quick hear of Taiwanese songs. But still, now it’s not uncommon to see how those in control can, through manipulation and propaganda, maintain that control simply for the sake of sating their own power hunger. It’s easy to say “no one could ever tell me what to think or what to do,” but the Party’s use of Big Brother, the Thought Police, the Two-Minute Hate, and Doublethink make it easy to see how a person’s ability to think independently and discern fiction from reality can be eroded when there is no touchstone to fact.
We think we’re too smart to fall for lies like those of the Party, but a quick trawl of trending stories on social media demonstrates the untruth of that: people are gullible. The patent nonsense that people believe and share, without ever engaging the weakest of critical faculties is staggering. Most of those are trivial compared with the lies of Big Brother, but they show how easy it is to believe what everyone else believes, regardless of ample evidence to the contrary.
We may not have Two Minutes’ Hate or Hate Week, but we certainly have hate figures, and again, social media exacerbates the crowd mentality: “The horrible thing… was not that one was obliged to act a part, but… that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”