Easy Chair — From the December 2014 issue

Poison Apples

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I’m still not sure why 1984 the year wasn’t supposed to be like 1984 the novel. Maybe it took us longer to get to that Orwellian dystopia, but technology smoothed our path. The way that online documents, including news stories, are endlessly revised to cover up errors and reverse opinions, often untraceably, makes much of the Internet a kind of Ministry of Truth. As for Orwell’s doublespeak, tech-capitalist euphemisms — like “the sharing economy” for outsourced labor and consolidated profits — fit its pattern nicely. Big Hipster Brother is one of my nicknames for Google — Apple’s ascendant younger sibling, the corporation that terrifies Europeans with its ambition to be a global information monopoly, the multifaceted Google that is YouTube, Gmail, the Android operating system, the Chrome operating system, Google Groups, and several other powerful threads that make up the fabric of everyday life. Google is also the world’s biggest advertising company, watching you on nearly every website you visit.

Maybe Apple’s “1984” ad is the beginning of Silicon Valley’s fantasy of itself as the solution, not the problem — a dissident rebel, not the rising new Establishment. The fantasy shows itself in the industry’s favorite Orwellian word of recent years, “disrupt.” The term is so totemic that just a few months ago Wired — which for twenty years has preached the gospel of a utopia just one gadget or app away — used variations on “disrupt” eight times in a single paragraph. The article doesn’t explain why Uber (which has been banned in several cities for breaking the law and for its lack of accountability) is better than taxis, or why “Twitter disrupting the media industry; Facebook disrupting the communications industry; LinkedIn disrupting the human resources industry” are good things, or even what the nature of that disruption is.

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