Big Brother

Not all science fiction revolves around technological advances; sometimes the themes are sociological.

A prime example is George Orwell's classic 1949 novel 1984, in which the government, known as "Big Brother," watches the activities of most of the population most of the time, to ensure conformity with approved government behavior.

Big Brother is the figurehead ruler of the totalitarian government. His image is constantly visible on TV screens covering virtually all walls. The expression "Big Brother is watching" comes from the fact that these are two-way TV screens, allowing Big Brother and the government to watch everyone, even as everyone watches Big Brother.

Three years before Orwell published 1984, Ayn Rand came out with a short novel, Anthem, in which through is controlled and regulated, and citizens are constantly watched, by a Big Brother-like entity called the World Council. People are given numbers rather than names to take away their individuality. The people of Rand's Anthem have no free choice; all their activities are dictated by the state. Even their lifetime vocations are chosen for them based on aptitude:

Although it doesn't reference Big Brother by name, Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) also portrays a society where the government attempts to control and achieve conformity in individual thought by forbidding the reading of books, which are confiscated and burned by government-employed "firemen." The title, Fahrenheit 451, is a reference to the temperature at which paper burns.

While the notion of a benign image cloaking political surveillance may have originated with Orwell, and reflected his apprehension about the cult of personality in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, credit for the concept of a world in which the citizens were under surveillance - or at least were capable of being located anywhere at any time - perhaps should go to H.G. Wells.

Wells speculated about a future in which a central headquarters would keep track of everybody, and in which everybody would be able to connect with everybody else, which he considered progress.

Wells's vision is made feasible through technology in Arthur C. Clarke's and Stephen Baxter's The Light of Other Days (2000). By harnessing a wormhole, scientists create the WormCam, a device that enables the user to see anyone in the world, any where, at any time, thereby completely destroying individual privacy.