Editorial: Watching you

I counted the security cameras on my way to the office this morning. I spied over 100. They are everywhere. There are 32 of them within 200 yards of the London house where George Orwell wrote 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. What does this mean, except that CCTV is a good business to be in?

"These premises are under CCTV surveillance". Or "For your security and safety, cameras are installed here". Yes, Big Brother is watching you and it's all for your own security and safety. In fact, you asked for it - demanded it even. But, as Winston Smith also wonders in the book, is he really watching you? And who is Big Brother today anyway?

It's 60 years since George Orwell wrote his dystopian classic, and the term 'Big Brother' had seeped into the language and psyche of the real world long before it became the title of the annual reality TV car-crash that is now syndicated all over the world.

Sixty years is a long time, and yet E&T's editors have found a mine of contemporary themes in the novel. James Hayes considers the technology that Orwell imagined and looks at how much of it is now real, in this issue. Some of it is still controversial but much of it we don't mind - thanks to that crucial 'off' button.

Surveillance is central to the power of Big Brother in the book and Europeans got used to CCTV everywhere long ago. American society, however, is now catching up, as Laurie Wiegler reports from New York. Big Brother doesn't just watch your every move, he knows your every thought. Impossible of course, or so I thought until I read our feature on the latest in mind-reading technology.

Even if we have the technology, it doesn't follow that we live under Big Brother. Intent matters. Most of those cameras I counted this morning, for example, aren't watching people at all - with just a few exceptions, those that actually work are really all watching property. In fact, they are hoping not to see any people at all. The issue is certainly worth considering but to call the societies that most of us live in 'Big Brother states' is to belittle the experiences of those that really are living under oppressive regimes.

Our features editor, Vitali Vitaliev, remembers life in the Soviet Union - when the State could even censor engineering text books.

Our management editor, Nick Smith, even finds parallels with 'Nineteen Eighty-Four's society within the corporate world and modern business, albeit not quite as sinister. Management by fear is on the rise, Karen Bremner says - and she should know because she was a contestant on TV's 'The Apprentice'. It's a style, it seems, that is steadly creeping into the real world as managers start to model themselves on Alan Sugar's on-screen persona.

Finally, we look at the arrival of Newspeak in the form of business and management jargon. Every profession has its jargon, because it serves as a shorthand for conveying meaning between specialists. But when it leaks out into the wider world, or when it's just used lazily, it serves to exclude and to obscure meaning. When we hear the lingo of teenagers like our Jack, who starts his diary (both, yes both, of his parents are engineers, the poor boy) we merely fail to understand. But Mick Herron argues that the business newspeak is much more damaging. It's also quite funny. Send me the silliest bits you've heard and we'll start a dictionary.

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