But Orwell likely would have been fascinated about the next step these innovative new corporations took. Nowadays they produce goods that intrude far deeper into private life than ever was done by the titans of 20th century industry. It is not uncommon today to, say, search online for an airfare one day, and the next day to see an advertisement in your Facebook timeline for a bargain on a hotel at the contemplated destination. I’ve had similar advertisements pop up on my computer after searching for an obscure book. The chilling fact is that anyone using the internet is being monitored endlessly by companies eager to sell them more goods. Just as Orwell’s Big Brother conducted personal observation of citizens, so do too these companies—and far more efficiently than did Orwell’s clumsy monster.
Today, data is not only powerful, it also has become hugely profitable. There is a saying in Silicon Valley that there is no such thing as a free app—that is, if you use an app that comes without a cost, then you are the product. Today’s tech companies treat people as resources to be mined and exploited, not unlike, say, coal in the nineteenth century.