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A Companion to New Media Dynamics by Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, John Hartley

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Chapter 19

New Media and Changing Perceptions of Surveillance

Anders Albrechtslund

Introduction

The antagonist of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four 1949, the iconic Big Brother, sees all and knows all. He is at the center of a repressive regime that controls the population. Orwell's novel depicts a society without privacy and freedom, but with absolute state control: “Big Brother is watching you,” as the famous posters say in the story's version of London. Since its publication in 1949, Orwell's novel has been the textbook example of a totalitarian society with all its fear, repression, and horror. According to the logic of the story, such a society is necessarily identical with a surveillance society, and this argument has been extremely influential, especially in public debates. In the novel, a society is described where power is based on a firm control of the mass media. Big Brother is the center of power and the image of his face is used aggressively on large “telescreens” as an intimidating presence everywhere. At the same time, historical records are rewritten into propaganda for the government—a job that is performed by the protagonist of the story, Winston Smith.

In this chapter, I explore how new media dynamics contribute to new surveillance practices. Orwell illustrated in his dystopian post-Second World War novel that media constitute a powerful apparatus for surveillance. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the citizens are controlled through their own gaze, as they watch the ...

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