Vivien Butot discusses '1984' and surveillance society for Erasmus University book club

BOLD Cities researcher Vivien Butot offered his insights on George Orwell's classic novel 1984 as part of a book club discussion at Erasmus University's Studium Generale. His introduction to the novel has been recorded as a podcast and is now available online.

"Big Brother is watching you!" is George Orwell's most famous line from 1984. In this dystopian novel, society in an imaginary future is controlled by an ubiquitous government. But how has the surveillance society Orwell describes in the book surfaced in present-day reality? It is almost impossible to discuss 1984 without making a connection to the present day, in which surveillance is widely used – for example by means of mobile phones, surveillance cameras and the ‘bonus card’ at the Albert Heijn supermarket. Is Big Brother watching us? And who is Big Brother in today's society? Is the reference to 'Big Brother' appropriate when we talk about the Covid-19 app that countries are launching? What lessons can we learn for the possible use of such devices to contain the coronary pandemic? And if the app gets there, will we ever get rid of it? 

Vivien Butot's PhD research at the Centre for BOLD Cities focuses on the relationship between smart city developments and privacy. In the Studium Generale podcast, he discusses whether or not 1984 is a good metaphor for our current surveillance society – and examines if Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and Franz Kafka (The Trial) perhaps had a better foretelling ability.