As we begin Part Three of 1984 of 1984, you will be preparing for another round of group discussions over key points in the first three chapters. While you debated with other groups over about the interpretation of key scenes and were assessed on your use of rhetorical language and traits of an effective communicator last time, this round of discussions will focus on your ability to conduct ‘conversational threading’ and connect your topic of discussion with the different topics of your classmates.
The topics for chapters 1 and 2 of Part Three in 1984 are:
- How is juxtaposition used in chapter 1? What purpose does it serve, and how does it relate to Orwell’s overall use of paradox and irony in the novel?
- What is the only reason political prisoners are captured? How is this different from the proles, and how does this clearly highlight the differences between the two classes of society?
- Who else is imprisoned with Winston, and why are they imprisoned? How are the subtle differences in their crimes still related?
- What is ironic about Parson’s imprisonment? How does his reaction to his punishment differ from Winston, and what does this say about Parson?
- Why is physical torture used to change Winston’s mind? What is O’Brien and the party’s ultimate goal?
Questions/Topics for Round Two:
- Is O’Brien a former members of the brotherhood? How does the ambiguity around his character further serve Orwell’s use of paradox?
- Why does 2+2=5? What is the ultimate goal of the party’s torture of Winston?
- What is in room 101?
Additionally, we continued to discuss the possible connections and parallels to events in the book to real life. We’ve already identified to similarities between Orwell’s ‘telescreens’ as smartphones, and the ‘speakwrite’ as voice-to-text, the constant running of the screens to our constant need to be ‘plugged in’ to our phones or devices, and the microphones scattered around Airstrip One to our microphones and video recorders on our phones.
In Part Three O’Brien attempts to change Winston’s thoughts through rather drastic means – while we don’t see this in the real world, we do see our ‘telescreens’ attempting to influence and change our habits (and maybe thoughts) through online advertising and the algorithms used to run them. After watching portions of a TED Talk about “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads” (00:00:00-00:12:00 and 00:16:33-00:18:00), we discussed how our apps and ads target us for information, and how the information gathered on us is sold – in order to gather more information and sell us more stuff. As you browse the web, play Angry Birds or use Facebook over the weekend, pay attention to the ads and videos you are shown online – how does your phone know what to show you? Do advertisements you seen online influence you to click on or buy things? Do you think this is similar at all to the ideas Orwell discusses in 1984? Algorithms aren’t people, and therefore cannot make ‘bad’ decisions – however, what are the ethics involved in using these algorithms?
Also, I shared my anecdote in class of talking about buying new wedding bands, and having my phone show me specialized ads later for the exact rings Mr. Pierce and I were discussing – even though we never typed them into our phone – and you guys were really interested and (understandably) unnerved. After a little bit of researching I found out that apps that use software from Alphonso automatically enable your microphone to record and analyze what you say, and then use algorithms to show you ads. While this is pretty benign, it is something to consider in relation to the ideas Orwell presents us in the novel 1984 – plus, as users of digital platforms, you should be aware of how your private data is being used. Searching “Alphonso Automated” in iTunes or the PlayStore will show you a list of apps that use this software, and You can read a New York Times article about the software here.
As you consider the questions above over the weekend, also consider software like Alphonso – should companies be more up-front about using this software? Should they make it easier for users to disable it on their smart phones? How is this similar or different to the surveillance and thought-manipulation in 1984? What would Orwell say about this? You’ll have a Google Classroom discussion post about this later in the week, so consider it!