In 1948 George Orwell completed his most famous book, 1984.
That book painted a picture of a dystopian Britain in which an unfeeling Government constantly listens to the words and thoughts of the population ensuring compliance with not only party doctrine but an increasingly elaborate view of the history of the conflict between three competing states.
Telescreens, a two-way, technologically enabled communications device, constantly listened to the population with a view to enabling a police force, known as Thought Police, to punish those who committed thought crimes.
In the lee of an earlier war, Franz Kafka, wrote his masterpiece Der Process, more commonly known as “The Trial,” a book about a government-led process which greatly inconveniences, perplexes and infuriates the protagonist which seemingly has no end or purpose.
Both of these books, read together and separately, paint a dim view of Government which exists for their own purpose rather than to serve the community. 1984, in particular, has a view that Government uses technology to oppress the community.
There have been a number of thinkers who have claimed that the prevalence of personalised data provided via social networking and an ever-widening digital footprint will create the circumstances where a Government could enable “Big Brother” and enforce thought crimes. But as I look around the world Governments for the most part are using those technologies to create better communities rather than Kafkaesque nightmares.
Governments are instead focussing on using data to crowdsource ideas about how to create safer streets, plan better public transport and creating dialogue between police and the community.
Instead of creating a Kafkaesque nightmare of Government inertia and incompetence Governments are utilising data to provide more personalised services and reduce the barriers for citizens to receive services.
Rather than having Big Brother looking over our shoulders, Governments are instead using similar technology to help, engage and inspire the community, the exact opposite of the view of Orwell and Kafka’s works.