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Big Brother

January 11, 2011

When you hear the phrase “Big Brother is watching you,” you probably think of two countries in particular: China and the former Soviet Union. Technology has changed the game. Although the Big Brother approach was effective, due to today’s technology alone privacy is almost nonexistent.

Do you know where your children are? Or your wife who says she has gone shopping or the spouse who claims to be “working late”? How about the whereabouts of your pet? Even in Turkey pet owners are required to make sure their pets have their own microchip. My pets each have a chip in case they go astray. Global Positioning System technology, more commonly known as GPS, is making it easier than ever to find stolen cars or track down missing people or Fido when he gets lost. Who would have ever imagined 50 years ago that you could be found, maybe in some cases somewhere you would not want to be found?

Since the publication of George Orwell’s work “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in 1949 the term Big Brother has become part of everyday language. The book has been read by millions, and the phrase has been used to mean the power of the state to intrude on the individual’s privacy.

Americans, Dutch and British people and many others have been up in arms about the intrusion into their personal lives. In recent years Turkey has placed cameras on many street corners, and businesses and residences have installed them as well. I am not real happy with the cameras everywhere as it now forces me to stop at lights I might just have risked rolling through as amber changed to red, and some of you even drove in the emergency lane because traffic was not moving in the proper lanes. Of course, some of us would never do that.

The digital generation of the all-seeing, all-knowing Big Brother is represented by large computer systems and technology such as the digital camera and mobile phones. Sources say that each adult in the developed world can be found in many databases and that these converge with the telecommunications spectrum and a web of surveillance envelops everything from our bank accounts to our e-mail. There are always advantages and disadvantages to everything. In this case looms the creation of a surveillance society through information technology. It all depends on how it is used.

In many ways Orwell was ahead of his time, and he got it right in the sense that some of our freedoms are not so intact.

I remember when I first came to live in Turkey I could not help but notice the number of people who sat on the balconies or by their windows. Whether or not they intended to be a busybody as they just sat watching the street below they actually noticed who was coming and going. By the way, usually the resident of the apartment next to the front door takes it upon herself to make everyone’s business her business. To a degree, this is still true of today. However, as more buildings are being constructed the balcony does not have the same role it used to have. Many balconies nowadays are enclosed. This in itself is changing the dynamics of society.

While walking home the other day the dog of the neighbor next door was distressed and was howling most of the morning. Being a dog owner myself, I was concerned more about the dog than the howling. However, the neighbor who lives below the apartment was upset about the noise. Keeping my head down, I was aware as soon as the dog owner returned home as the upset neighbor immediately confronted the man in the hallway about the noise. The old fashioned Big Brother strategy is still effective. Years ago I remember being impressed by how my Turkish neighbors — even before peep holes in the doors and doorbells were common — would know if someone was outside their front door.

Orwell’s imagination was incredible for his time. Every public and private space was watched. These centrally monitored devices were used as public information systems and ended up policing the morals, thoughts and behavior of all citizens.

The Big Brother strategy in practice in Turkey was to watch out for one another. Safety was the major concern. Those days aren’t entirely gone, but let’s face it Visual surveillance is becoming a fixed component in the design of urban centers, housing areas, public buildings, road systems and who knows where else.

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