Ask Alexa About the Big Read and 1984

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Today CBS Morning News reported a Portland, Oregon family’s claim their Amazon Echo recorded a conversation and sent it to a person on their contact list, unbeknownst to them.

“Winston Smith is rolling over in his grave,” I say to Mr. Wonderful, my husband, on the way to reheat a cup of coffee in the microwave.

“Who?” He mumbles.

“Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell’s novel, ” 1984″, remember Big Brother, Newspeak, Thought Police, and the Telescreen.

“Right, Big Brother, the one with a mustache? and he continues work on a crossword puzzle. “What’s a four letter word for fabric that begins with L?”

“Linen? ”

“Linen is five letters, a four letter word.”

“Lace? Ask Alexa, she’s like Big Brother, knows everything.”

“You really think Alexa is like Big Brother? Let’s find out,” and speaking into air Mr. Wonderful says, “Alexa are you like Big Brother?”

Alexa answers, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”

“See! That’s what I’m talking about,” I start saying but Mr. Wonderful anticipating a rant announces, “I’m going fishing.”

I first read Orwell’s novel in high school, more than fifty years ago but never did the math, the year 1984 seemed so futuristic, I assumed I would be dead and besides at that time, depictions of being vaporized for thinking seemed as unlikely as Aliens arriving from outer space. But I have been rereading the book not only because it is on the Great American Read list but feel as though “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING US,” for real.

Well, Alexa may not be watching but she is definitely listening, ask the family in Portland, Oregon.

The Telescreen in the novel, “whose voice came from a metal plaque like a dulled mirror,” could hear Winston throughout his apartment and sense his every move.

Alexa is more attractive and invited.

Winston works for the Ministry of Truth but questions everything they tell him. He buys a diary, sits in a small alcove to remain outside the range of Telescreen to write, but is unable to formulate his thoughts because thinking is a crime, subject to vaporizing.

Mr. Wonderful interrupts my private rant tossing his car keys on the counter and announcing, “It’s raining.”

I shut my Kindle, get off the couch, and join him in the kitchen.

He inquires, “What are you reading?”

“The novel, “1984,” remember? It’s on the Big Read List.”

“Is David Baldacci on the list? You know he’s my favorite.”

“You should read it, it’s scary, many of the happenings are becoming real; President Trump has embraced Newspeak. Trump probably thinks the destruction of words is a beautiful thing, just like comrade Syme in the novel who questions, “Why do we need the words excellent or splendid when a stronger version of good i.e., plusgood or doubleplusgood works.”

How many times have we heard Trump’s description of things as big, really big, or really really big? Yes occasionally Trump says it is HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHuge! Otherwise he’s the King of a limited vocabulary.”

Mr. Wonderful rolls his eyes and heads to the bathroom to shower.

I follow him my voice escalating, “The party tried to convince Winston two plus two is five and changing old news to fake news is real but Winston couldn’t accept this, even Trump knows fake news is real.

Mr. Wonderful is now in the shower and past pretending he can hear me. When he is towelling off,  I change the subject and ask, “Did you hear about Roseanne Barr?, She shot herself in the foot.”

Mr. Wonderful answers, “I heard, with a tweet.”  Than continues, “Too bad the thought police didn’t vaporize her earlier, think of the jobs that could have been saved. What happens to Winston, I can’t remember.”

“You should read the book. Eventually Winston is sent to Room 101 where his brain is rebooted and he spends the rest of his life gulping gin, and playing chess with himself. He no longer laments about Fake News. Oh he has a job working on The Interim Report, the subject of which is not known.

Mr. Wonderful hangs up his damp towel, smiles and says, “refresh my memory again is ‘1984’  fiction or non-fiction?”

From the other room Alexa answers, “I have no opinion on that.”

                                                       .  .  .  .  just saying

Wikipedia 1984

PBS Great American Read

David Baldacci

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