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

Citizens of Oceania bone up on the new reality

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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. ®

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