I remember as a kid writing a lot of essays for English. I wrote one intended to compare and contrast We by Yevgeny Zamyatin with Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Reading all three together it was clear that a) Aldous Huxley had completely ripped off the idea for his book from the (then) much less known Zamyatin book, and that b) the Orwell book was a fairly rubbish bit of writing compared to the other two as far as plot, storytelling, narrative, character development and so on went.
However, Nineteen Eighty-Four had something that the other two couldn’t even touch – the Newspeak appendix. If you haven’t read it, then read it, but for now just know that Orwell described how chopping up vocabulary and grammar allowed the totalitarian ruling party – Big Brother – to control what people were capable of thinking. Ever since I read that, I have always been fascinated with the notion that if we don’t have the word we can’t think the thought. In Orwell’s world, this is mostly about removing words like ‘freedom’ or ‘rebellion’, etc. (hello China) but there is no reason why it would be restricted to concepts like that.
So, it dawned on me a couple of weeks ago, how fascinating it is that now, twenty years after I first started understanding the potential impact of reducing a language instead of expanding it, we are presented with the reduction of basic emotions by made up bullshit words like ‘defriend’ or (gut wrenching for any lover of the English language) ‘unlike’. Those words and others are common parlance now, and how intriguing that they would have been created by that digital nation we have all rushed to live in, Facebook.
For a start, these words are stupid. They are a really poor excuse for quite sophisticated emotions. More insidiously, they are allowed in a very limited fashion by the very beast that created them in the first place – how many people have said to you “I wanted to Unlike a status or comment, but Like is the only option”. That’s interesting in itself, but nowhere near as interesting as this new vocabulary being introduced by an omnipresent beast that encourages you, nay, demands that you share every innermost secret with it – What do you think? Where do you live? What do you like? – and then tracking every part of your behaviour you dare expose to its electronic brain, and then offering you a very limited choice of what to look at or do (read: think about) based on what you have a history of doing. Do you think we are a million miles from having a large screen in our houses permanently logged into Facebook? Most houses have that already – the only difference being that we are (temporarily) allowed an off button.
Is it only me, or is this a dream coming true? If so, is ‘dream’ the right description?