Thanks, NSA: Amazon sales of Orwell's 1984 rise 9,500%

Citizens of Oceania bone up on the new reality


A glance at the "Movers and Shakers" page of Amazon shows there's been an unusual reaction to the current NSA spying scandal: sales of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four are up 9,538 per cent.

It was somewhat ironic that the news of the NSA's systematic slurping of phone records and the subsequent revelations about the PRISM spying system were revealed in the same week as the 64th anniversary of the publication of Orwell's dark masterpiece. Now it seems people are buying it up either to learn about what could be, or simply because recent events reminded them to read the classic.

There are certainly parallels with the current situation to be found in the book, although we don't yet have clocks that strike thirteen. Certainly Orwell's imagined telescreen that monitors the populace in their living room could be seen as potentially very similar to Microsoft's Xbox One, which comes with a Kinect system that can monitor your heartbeat.

One might also draw parallels with the tale of a state locked in perpetual war. The US military has officially been in combat for over half of the years since the book was first published in 1949 (Korea 1950-53, Vietnam 1959-1975, Grenada 1983, Panama 1989-90, Kuwait 1991, Bosnia 1995, and Afghanistan ongoing since 2001) and that's not including "police actions" and "wars" against drugs and terror.

Meanwhile, Occupy protestors shout about the 1 per cent who rule the world (Orwell suggested the inner party made up 2 per cent of the population). Commentators worry about the shrinking numbers of people who could be considered middle class, which the British novelist estimated were reduced to 13 per cent of society in his fictional world.

As for doublespeak, we were treated to an example of this from the US director of national intelligence James Clapper. At congressional hearings in March Clapper was asked directly by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) if the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans he replied "No." In an interview on Sunday by NBC Clapper qualified his remarks with some extensive linguistic jujitsu.

"This has to do with of course somewhat of a semantic, perhaps some would say too – too cute by half. But it is – there are honest differences on the semantics of what – when someone says "collection" to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him," he said.

But this El Reg hack would argue that Orwell's vision of the future was less accurate than that of Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. Most governments today don't censor in the way of the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Instead, Huxley's vision of a world where hard information is drowned out in a sea of dross and advertising seems far more realistic.

Nevertheless it's going to be a good excuse to rummage through the book boxes, get out my battered copy of Orwell's masterpiece, sip a glass of Victory Gin, and wonder at the imagination of one of Britain's foremost literary talents. ®


Other stories you might like

  • You need to RTFM, but feel free to use your brain too
    But I was only following the procedures!

    Who, Me? Monday is here, and with it a warning that steadfast determination to ignore instructions might not be such a silly thing after all. Welcome to Who, Me?

    Today's story comes from a reader Regomized as "Sam" and takes us back to his first proper IT job following his departure from the education system.

    Sam found himself on the mainframe operations team for a telecommunications company. The work was, initially, pretty manual stuff. The telco wasn't silly, and had its new recruits start by performing offline duties, such as gathering tapes and job tickets for batch runs, handling payslips, "basically anything involving a bit of leg work," he told us.

    Continue reading
  • Tropical island paradise ponders tax-free 'Digital Nomad Visa'
    Live and work in Bali, pay tax at home

    The government of Indonesia has once again raised the idea of creating a "digital nomad visa" that would allow foreign workers to live and work in the tropical paradise of Bali, tax free, for five years.

    The idea was raised before the COVID-19 pandemic, but understandably shelved as borders closed and the prospect of any digital nomads showing up dropped to zero.

    But in recent interviews Sandiaga Uno, Indonesia's minister for Tourism and the Creative Economy, said the visa was back on the drawing board.

    Continue reading
  • Small in Japan: Hitachi creates its own (modest) cloud
    VMware-powered sovereign cloud not going to challenge hyperscalers, but probably won't be the last such venture

    Hitachi has taken a modest step towards becoming a public cloud provider, with the launch of a VMware-powered cloud in Japan that The Register understands may not be its only such venture.

    The Japanese giant has styled the service a "sovereign cloud" – a term that VMware introduced to distinguish some of its 4,000-plus partners that operate small clouds and can attest to their operations being subject to privacy laws and governance structures within the nation in which they operate.

    Public cloud heavyweights AWS, Azure, Google, Oracle, IBM, and Alibaba also offer VMware-powered clouds, at hyperscale. But some organizations worry that their US or Chinese roots make them vulnerable to laws that might allow Washington or Beijing to exercise extraterritorial oversight.

    Continue reading
  • Beijing probes security at academic journal database
    It's easy to see why – the question is, why now?

    China's internet regulator has launched an investigation into the security regime protecting academic journal database China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), citing national security concerns.

    In its announcement of the investigation, the China Cyberspace Administration (CAC) said:

    Continue reading
  • Cerebras sets record for 'largest AI model' on a single chip
    Plus: Yandex releases 100-billion-parameter language model for free, and more

    In brief US hardware startup Cerebras claims to have trained the largest AI model on a single device powered by the world's largest Wafer Scale Engine 2 chip the size of a plate.

    "Using the Cerebras Software Platform (CSoft), our customers can easily train state-of-the-art GPT language models (such as GPT-3 and GPT-J) with up to 20 billion parameters on a single CS-2 system," the company claimed this week. "Running on a single CS-2, these models take minutes to set up and users can quickly move between models with just a few keystrokes."

    The CS-2 packs a whopping 850,000 cores, and has 40GB of on-chip memory capable of reaching 20 PB/sec memory bandwidth. The specs on other types of AI accelerators and GPUs pale in comparison, meaning machine learning engineers have to train huge AI models with billions of parameters across more servers.

    Continue reading
  • Zendesk sold to private investors two weeks after saying it would stay public
    Private offer 34 percent above share price is just the thing to change minds

    Customer service as-a-service vendor Zendesk has announced it will allow itself to be acquired for $10.2 billion by a group of investors led by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, investment company Permira, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

    The decision is a little odd, in light of the company's recent strategic review, announced on June, which saw the board unanimously conclude "that continuing to execute on the Company's strategic plan as an independent, public company is in the best interest of the Company and its stockholders at this time."

    That process saw Zendesk chat to 16 potential strategic partners and ten financial sponsors, including a group of investors who had previously expressed conditional interest in acquiring the company. Zendesk even extended its discussions with some parties but eventually walked away after "no actionable proposals were submitted, with the final bidders citing adverse market conditions and financing difficulties at the end of the process."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022