George Orwell’s Big Brother has been invoked often. It’s the idea of a surveillance state where the government is always watching and the public — even innocent people who are simply going about their lives. The New York Times takes a look at the theory of Little Brother’s constant watchfulness:
As the Internet proves every day, it isn’t some stern and monolithic Big Brother that we have to reckon with as we go about our daily lives, it’s a vast cohort of prankish Little Brothers equipped with devices that Orwell, writing 60 years ago, never dreamed of and who are loyal to no organized authority. The invasion of privacy — of others’ privacy but also our own, as we turn our lenses on ourselves in the quest for attention by any means — has been democratized. […]
In “1984,” the abolition of personal space was part of an overarching government policy, but nowadays it’s often nothing more than a side effect of wired high spirits. The era of the “viral video,” when footage of some absorbing slice of life can spread overnight around the globe, is bringing out the anarchist in all of us. […]
There are also times, of course, when Little Brother does a positive service to society by turning the tables on the state and watching the watchers. The other day a video emerged that seemed to show an Israeli soldier dancing in a mocking manner around a cowering Palestinian woman whom he appeared to have under his control. The viewer couldn’t help but be reminded of more shocking pictures from Abu Ghraib — scenes of torture that might never have come to light if Little Brother hadn’t been standing nearby. […]
Big Brother may have stifled dissent by forcing conformity on his frightened subjects, but his trespasses were predictable and manageable. What’s more, his assaults on citizens’ privacy left the concept of privacy intact, allowing the possibility that with his overthrow people might live again as they once had.
Little Brother affords us no such luck, in part because he dwells inside us rather than in some remote and walled-off headquarters. In the new, chaotic regime of networked lenses and microphones that point every which way and rest in every hand, permitting us to train them on ourselves as easily as we aim them at one another, the private and public realms are so confused that it’s best to treat them as identical.