It seems like a lifetime ago, but I’m remembering that high school classroom where students were discussing George Orwell’s 1984. I was the ostensible teacher, but the kids were doing just fine on their own. That day the topic was one aspect of the book that seemed to bother a lot of students— the total lack of privacy in the character’s lives. A few were getting sidetracked by the fact that, in their experience, television sets only worked as receivers, not cameras, and the idea of a television set that could watch what was going on in the room seemed a little far-fetched. Others seemed properly freaked at the very idea of someone daring to invade their privacy that way. Eventually they would work the conversation into themes of historical revisionism and thought crime.
I hadn’t thought about that classroom for years, but last week I finished reading Julia Angwin’s nonfiction Dragnet Nation, just published in February of this year, and 1984 came thundering back into my consciousness. I wonder if those students from the middle of my teaching career, now in their 40’s and 50’s, ever remember the discussions they had about privacy? Ever think of those discussions as they “like” some place of business on facebook? Or when they innocently visit another business’s website? I know I wondered naively why so much sports car related advertising springs up on my web-surfing. And it took a while before I put two and two together… as in how belonging to a Miata discussion forum and shopping for performance parts online might result in someone thinking I’d be a good target for automotive advertising.
Or do those formerly freaked out high school students ever consider that their laptops almost surely have a camera that, with the wrong malware installed from an unfriendly website, could photograph them any time the laptop is turned on.
Think I’m kidding? Continue reading OUR DRAGNET WORLD