George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is NOT a user manual

My son is 14 and needs to read a novel in English class. Last time he picked ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K. Dick and managed to confuse his English teacher who had never heard of the author. So this time, I talked him into picking something easier, namely ‘1984’ by George Orwell.

‘1984’ by George Orwell
Michael Björn

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

As I went to the bookstore to pick up a copy for him, I noticed it was a brand new edition, and vaguely remembered it had recently been on the bestseller list.

“Yes,” said the shop clerk with a laugh, “it used to be about a dystopian future, but now it has turned into a ‘how-to’ manual.”

I laughed with him but also thought that he had a very pessimistic outlook on society.

By pure coincidence I was given another book about dictators as a birthday present this April by a friend. The book is ‘On Tyranny’ by Timothy Snyder, and reading it made me very concerned.

Snyder offers twenty lessons from the twentieth century, because as he says: “History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” Although the current public preoccupation with dictators is an issue in its own right, the cause for my particular concern is the connection a lot of people make to the internet.

And Snyder is quite vocal about this, offering up advise such as, “Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet.” In the same chapter, he goes on to say that, “Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else.” A few sentences later, he concludes, “So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.”

But hold on a second there!

What is the ethical quality built into paper? What makes a page in a book less two-dimensional than a page on a digital screen?

From my perspective, neither paper nor the internet are inherently good or bad. It is what we make of such technologies that counts. Turning one’s back on the internet will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it is now more urgent than ever that we engage in dialogue and make sure that we develop an online culture that reflects our ideas of a civil society that we want to live in.

In order to contribute to such a discussion, our 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 highlights Social Broadcasting and the realization among consumers that social media is overrun by one-sided broadcasters.

For example, more than half think politicians use social media to spread propaganda, and belief that actual two-way dialogue is possible does not seem to be very strong.

55%

But importantly, consumers also see how technology might be put to good use in order to remedy the situation as well. Hence, half of the respondents say AI would be useful to help check whether facts stated on social networks are true or false. As many would also like to use AI to verify the truthfulness of what politicians say.

So, let us jointly strive to create a social environment where ‘1984’ is once again just a book about a dystopian future rather than a how-to manual, and where we use technology to accomplish good things rather than blame technology for our shortcomings.

And hopefully, that is also a social environment where my son manages to get a better English grade now that he reads a book that his teacher knows about!

Find out more insights from Ericsson ConsumerLab’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 here, and let us know your ideas on the social media environment today.

In case you missed it: Don’t forget to check out the podcast for our 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 and beyond, with Pernilla Jonsson, Head of Ericsson ConsumerLab and Michael Björn, Head of Research at ConsumerLab.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Michael Björn
Michael Björn is Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab at Ericsson ConsumerLab and has a PhD in data modeling from the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
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