1984: Technologies As An Instrument Of Control

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Technology, a familiar term heavily associated held as an integral part of our modern human experience. The invasion of technology into our lives is so overlooked that sometimes we underestimate our dependence on it, as well as the amount of free access to our information that other people may have.

As I was studying 1984 and I, Robot the main idea that was extracted from these two texts was how the powerful exploit the use of technology to deprive citizens of the intrinsically human experiences of privacy and freedom. Both texts highlight the methods people in power use to exploit technology by controlling their citizens’ actions, restricting privacy and human autonomy for their own benefit.

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Technology is instigated in both texts to control the citizens’ privacy, forcing citizens to act in a way that satisfies the ideals of the powerful, thus ridding them of their privacy and freedom. In 1984, Big Brother and the Inner Party exploits the use of telescreens and other devices to make sure that everyone behaves in an accordingly way to how they want. Winston highlights the drastic use of surveillance, through his use of second-person narrative, ‘but you could not control the beating of your heart, and the telescreen was quite delicate enough to pick it up’’, to create tension as well as a unique relationship with the readers allowing them to emphasize with Winston’s perspective. Similarly, in I, Robot surveillance is also used – mainly through Lawrence Robertson, to ensure that his wealth and cooperation are protected – as he constantly surveys and sources of possible resistance or hostility towards his business. Robertson uses the ever-surveillant motif of VIKI to keep a record of Detective Spooner; the constant interruption of VIKI being used allows the ending to become more conclusive as we see how the powerful controlled the use of technology until the technology finally controls them, this motif can be compared with the slogan used in 1984; ‘BIG BROTHER IS ALWAYS WATCHING YOU.’ The use of a low-angle shot here proves the dominance and control that Robertson has over the actions that he is coercing Dr. Susan Calvin to commit to. In contrast to 1984, I, Robot ensures a more physical approach of control such as physically push the people into their will. The use of low-angle shots, as shown in this photo *display* creates a sense of not only forebodingness but also power and dominance being conveyed through the robots. The use of low lighting and the time is set during the night, also creates a more sinister atmosphere emphasizing the fear the people would be experiencing during this time.

Another use of technology is the psychological abuse and invasion of privacy that influences and controls the minds impacting the ability of free-thinking and thus the human quality of autonomy. This theme is heavily explored in 1984, especially through the torture instigated in room 101. As Winston highlights at the beginning of the novel, reusing the second-person narrative that ‘There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. You had to live … in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and…every movement scrutinized.’ This creates a sudden understanding between the protagonist and the readers, of the stress, fear, and emotional torment that harasses the citizens of Oceania on a daily occurrence. The use of ‘rats’ in Room 101 especially highlights another impact of the ever-constant surveillance, as O’Brien understands Winston’s nature so well that he is able to find his fear to destroy Winston’s human autonomy through psychological torment. In contrast, the impact technology had on psychological abuse in I, Robot, was used less on the humans but more on robots, through the representation of Sonny. Through the use of a narrative voice-over, Dr. Alfred Lanning expresses the ironic model of robots, expressing them as ‘ghosts in the machine’ and that these ‘unanticipated free radicals…gender questions of free will…and even the nature of what we might call the soul’- highlighting the psychological power that the robots have possession of but are disposed of or are hidden away by humans who create the 3 Laws in order to protect themselves. Instead of ridding of human autonomy, there is more sense in saying they are ridding of the robot autonomy.

One of the final arguments I need to make is how the powerful exploit the use of technology for their own personal gains and benefits, and whilst doing so, destroys the individual experience and devalues the collective. In 1984, the act of Winston’s rebellion is met with the revelation of the government’s motive, ‘The party is for power’. Big Brother not only uses telescreens for surveillance but also for the portrayal of Goldstein in the Two Minutes of Hate is another method to promote their power as they rid people of their primitive temptations that go against their beliefs. The Two Minutes of Hate also acts as a device to destroy the individual experience and devaluing the collective. The paradoxical effect of the quote ‘ “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.” with the hyperbole of impossible, emphasizing the power exuded by the party and the way how mob mentality can rid people of individual thought and values, as well as destroying the collective experience as a whole. Similarly, in I, Robot, power is a common theme, however, used between two different sources; Laurance Robertson – an ambitious human, that only acts in regard to his emotions and VIKI – the computer mainframe driven solely on the notion of logic. Both sources inflict their power through the control of robots


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