George Orwell in 1984 presents a dystopian portrait of society where people are controlled by the state to serve its own purpose. In many popular films, TV shows, and books specific technologies (like nuclear weapons, chemical toxins, genetic manipulation, and surveillance satellites) are often shown to cause dystopia, oppression, and terror. In this blog assignment, please consider: Are there communication technologies that are essentially dystopian or dangerous? Or communication technologies that have some inherently negative consequences that must be managed or controlled?
Part I. Dystopian Technology. For Part I of this assignment, choose a communication technology that currently exists. You might consider an example from earlier in the course (e.g., from the communication infrastructure treasure hunt). For instance:
Social networking sites (facebook, myspace, etc.)
Facial recognition technology
Cryptography / encryption techniques
Digital rights management (DRM) technology
Text messaging (SMS)
Internet radio stations (LastFM)
Internet-based applications (Gmail)
(...or some other modern technology of your choice.)
State which technology you chose and explain the possible negative or dystopian consequences of the technology. Particularly creative or unexpected choices of a communication technology (or a possible negative consequence) are especially encouraged!
Part II. 1984 vs. today. Next, relate your technology to a technology discussed in 1984. You might consider the surveillance camera, surveillance microphone, speakwrite, telescreen, versificator, novel-writing machines, memory holes, or another technological system. For instance, you could analyze a passage, a scene, a chapter, a character, or a sub-plot that relates to your particular technology. In what ways is the dystopian usage of the technology you chose similar to (or different from) the way technology is used by the state in 1984, or Orwell's use of technology in the plot?
To receive full credit for this assignment, you must demonstrate that you have read the text. Citing a short passage from the first few pages or discussing only plot details listed on the back cover of the book (or in the Spark Notes) will not count as "in depth."
Part III. The Big Picture. Finally, using your examples, answer the larger question: Are there communication technologies that are essentially dystopian or dangerous? (Or: communication technologies that have some inherently negative consequences?) Use your examples or other evidence to justify your answer.
To improve your answer, please reflect on some of the material covered this semester. The lecture on dystopia may be helpful, and for instance, the chapter on "progress" in the Culture & Technology book relates very well to this topic.
Post an answer of at least 300 words to your blog. DEADLINE: December 15, 2009 at 6pm (one hour before the Final Exam)