BIG BROTHER'S BIOGRAPHY
This two-part article recieved the most scholarly acclaim of any I've published.
Originally published in the Unification News in its May and June 1996 issues.
This month we’re going to look at one of the most revered, dreaded, and least
understood aspects of the modern world, the Internet. We'll focus on the freedom,
or slavery, that it now offers us. This article will be in two parts. British author
George Orwell popularized the term ‘Big Brother’ in his famous novel 1984.
Others also warned of such a future. Ever since, people have dreaded the advent of
this all-seeing superstate.
It hasn’t worked out in quite the way Orwell envisioned, but it’s already bad enough. North Korea uses hordes of ridiculously low-tech snoops to keep a sharp eye on everything. American pundits now refer to a ‘Nanny State,’ a Big Sister run by feminists who loudly proclaim their compassion–but don’t hesitate to call in the lawyers–or, as at Waco, the Army tanks.
Big Brother is understood to rely on High Technology, thus to make the State literally all-seeing. Yet Big Brother was once an infant, and he relied on methods that seem primitive today.
Technology has people so awed that it is often spoken of in whispers, and ever greater powers are attributed to it. It even has its ‘negos,’ who preach “disconnection from the Net,” and a return to supposedly simpler times. For good or ill, modern technology is pretty amazing.
Sometimes hi-tech breakthroughs come from young students tinkering in their garage, and sometimes from teams of white-coated technicians, governmental or private. You never know which it’ll be. Not long ago, two Stanford dropouts became multimillionaires by founding the ‘Yahoo!’ Internet guide company–without even planning to.
For longer than you might think, the technological initiative, and the battle for its control, has seesawed between individualist tinkerers and organized government projects. “Government is power,” and it naturally fears that which gives more power to the ordinary people–for they “just might” get out of control, or pass important things to an enemy.
What makes Big Brother so pervasive? Computers and communications. Of course, governments (to varying degrees) also seek to control travel, trade and written communication.
The earliest forms of the Internet, that is, the utilization of transmitted data, were invented thousands of years ago. The Bronze Age Greeks set up a mountaintop chain of signal fires as a way to pass along simple news. Homer tells us that such a signal brought home news of the Greek victory in the Trojan War, more than 3,000 years ago. Thanks to Hollywood, we’ve all heard of American Indian ‘smoke signals,’ and native African ‘talking drums.’ Surprisingly, the movies got these depictions nearly right.
In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the French set up a unique communication system, a line-of-sight series of semaphore towers, creating a link between Paris and Lille. Using telescopes, skilled operators could move each tower’s twin ‘paddles,’ and thus transmit data, at an amazingly fast rate.
The discovery of electricity brought a new leap in speed and data capacity to the embryonic Net. Samuel Morse invented the electric telegraph in 1835, along with the Morse Code it uses. His wife had died while he was far away, and out of touch. He taught himself enough about “that newfangled electricity” to invent the system, in order that no loved one would ever again have to die alone.
Morse’s Western Union company, together with the American government, set up the first telegraph lines in the late 1830s. A working transatlantic cable was laid in 1866, linking America with Europe. During wartime these telegraph lines became primary targets.
Western Union dominated the communications industry until the 1870s, when Alexander Graham Bell and Theodore Vail’s Bell Telephone company largely replaced it. In an event filled with premonition, the new phone company had terrible trouble with its first operators–impudent teenage boys. They soon began hiring young women instead.
One British official is often quoted as an example of shortsightedness, for he said that while “America needs these new telephones, England does not, for we have plenty of messenger boys.” What the wags don’t tell you is that this same man eventually did oversee the instillation of England’s phone system.
In 1895 the Italian scientist Marconi invented radio, and dependence on physical wires was eliminated. By 1901 he had sent signals across the Atlantic, using Morse Code. The military establishments of many nations took immediate interest. Private commerce soon got involved, and today, several American radio stations claim the title of ‘oldest.’ The very first successful broadcaster was San Jose, California’s ‘Doc’ Herrold, in 1912. He used a handmade (and now obsolete) ‘arc phone’ spark transmitter. His wife Sybil played gramophone music over the air, and was the first disk jockey. Herrold’s chief rival, Lee DeForest, soon developed the AM radio technology used today.
America’s First Amendment had always applied to the print media, but government took a different tack with radio and its successors. They began by assigning broadcast frequencies. The airwaves were declared a ‘public trust,’ and licensing requirements were set forth. The former seemed a necessary role, while the latter has caused endless controversy.
Soon there were several commercial stations, and many more amateur operators. During World War One the Navy Department shut down all amateur radios, citing “security concerns.” In 1919 a government inspector censored New York City’s first and only radio station–for “playing unseemly music.”(!)
During World War Two, spies and infiltrators relied heavily on secret radio transmissions. Massive Allied (and corresponding Axis) efforts were made to listen in on all radio transmissions, and to track down any suspicious ones. New and ever more devious codes were both invented and broken.
Philo Farnsworth invented television in 1935, though it did not come into widespread use until the 1950s. This eventually lead to the development of the VCR and miniature video camera, with both fixed and handheld versions. These have altered society in very many ways.
As the wags now say, “If it wasn’t caught on video, it didn’t happen.” But when something is filmed, big things can happen. Just ask southern California.
Traditional communications, from telegraphs to television, are limited in many ways. Telephones connected only two people at a time, while TVs worked in only one direction. It wasn’t until the advent of computers that these devices were able do more. Entirely new -and often unforeseen- functions become possible.
For Big Brother to be an effective menace, many millions of people must be watched, all at once. Humans alone could not handle such a vast undertaking–but computers can.
The original computers were complex gear-driven ‘calculating engines.’ (Such as Babbidge’s Difference Engine.) The first electronic computers were developed during W.W.II, to break clever German and Japanese codes. (Read "The Ultra Secret" by F.W. Winterbotham.)
The invention of the transistor, then the integrated-circuit chip, enabled computers to shrink from room to pocket size. Defying generations of skeptics, this miniaturization continues apace.
These tiny chips have other functions besides calculating. In recent months microscopic electric motors have been developed, which could eventually power machines and robots the size of fleas, or smaller. Tiny radars can now protect car bumpers, operate household switches, and more.
For good or ill, video cameras the size of postage stamps are now available. With infrared sensors and wireless connections, these cameras can secretly watch, always and anywhere, even in the dark. Surely this is a key aspect of Big Brother.
Such chip-based devices would be of limited use if they needed to be ‘accessed’ by hand, one by one. However, they can be, and usually are, connected. This vast interlocking web is now called the Internet.
Early on, computers were linked together with ‘dedicated’ telephone or microwave lines. If any part of the chain broke, they were cut off. The Defense Department wanted a nuclear-war-proof method of communication, so in 1969 they funded the beginnings of the modern Internet.
The newborn Net soon passed into the hands of academia. At first it linked Universities worldwide, as well as the infamous ‘hacker’ clubs of the 1980s. (Read "The Hacker Crackdown" by Bruce Sterling.)
Today’s Internet spans a vast web of ‘nodes’ and communication lines. All of its information is first broken down into small, discreet ‘packets,’ then sent by the best available route. Each packet is acknowledged, and resent if needed. All of today’s computer modems use this method. This also enables a fast modem to carry on several tasks at once.
In 1980 the best modems transmitted at around 19 bps. (Bytes per second.) 1994’s top speed was 28.8 K bps. (K=kilo, or one thousand.) Many cities are now ‘covered’ by inexpensive wireless 54K networks, enabling mobile linkups. Phone company digital ISDN lines are faster still. Today, 1M satellite and 10M ‘coaxial’ cable modems are increasingly available. (M=mega, or one million.) These make possible the downloading of entire feature movies in just a few moments.
Today, thanks to commercial providers like America Online, millions have access to the Net. The World Wide Web has permeated American society within a few short years!
Several years back, a hacker invented the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption system. It enables anyone with a desktop computer to encode their data so that no one, including the Feds, can read it. Naturally, considering the Net’s roots, the Feds didn’t like this.
The world’s most powerful computers reside at the National Security Agency (NSA), where they try to break other nation’s (and corporation’s) codes, and invent better ones for themselves.
The Cold War still reverberates. The NSA’s supercomputers can automatically ‘listen’ to, and recognize, virtually any written or spoken word, in many languages. The NSA monitors thousands of phone and data lines at once, and they’re currently seeking to expand this capacity to tens of millions of lines.
The government says this will be aimed only at criminals and terrorists, and that they’ll never listen in except at greatest need . . . However, as Unificationists know all too well, anyone find themselves on a government ‘hit list.’ National talk show host Art Bell once whimsically urged his listeners to overload these automatic watchers by sprinkling their phone and modem conversations with ominous ‘keywords.’ (Big Brother would love to ban talk shows too.)
PGP’s suddenly-famous inventor barely escaped prosecution. The Feds now wish to ban PGP, and require inclusion of their own secretly-designed ‘Clipper Chips’ in all communications devices. However, even before Clipper was introduced, hackers had already come up with several ways to defeat them.
This isn’t all bad. The Feds need to catch the real bad guys, and they’re going hi-tech too. The old Soviet KGB once employed a group of German hackers to steal American secrets. Furthermore, privacy, in and of itself, is often a mere screen for fallen activities. When seated at a computer, perhaps no one but God will be looking over your shoulder.
Ordinary, uncoded modems have not escaped Federal eyes either. The increasing use of email has cut deeply into Post Office revenues. The Feds are coming up with a host of responses which sound good, like “universal access.” In actuality, these proposals will place their sticky hands right back into the pie. They’re talking about taxing Internet providers, and requiring ‘electronic stamps’ for all email.
There are other, less recognized areas of the Internet, mainly involving business. These began with ‘dedicated phone lines’ for airline reservations and banking computers. This spread to ‘personal’ uses such as ATM machines, and recently, to ubiquitous ‘pay points’ at grocery stores, gas stations, etc.
In 1945, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed the use of ‘geosynchronous communications satellites.’ He thought these would be a few huge, manned stations, as a crew would be needed to "change the vacuum tubes." Today, thanks to microelectronics, dozens of these hover 22,000 above the equator, each ‘covering’ a vast area of the Earth’s surface. At first they were useful only as communications relays between gigantic ‘ground station’ dishes. Later models broadcast one-way TV signals to large backyard dishes. Now there are powerful digital-signal models, which only need ‘pizza-plate sized’ dishes, and carry hundreds of channels.
Even the old TV satellites were enough to give the willies to many dictatorial governments. Both Iran and Red China have attempted to ban all private dishes. They point to decadent programming like the Playboy Channel (they just might have a point there), but their real concern is certainly with CNN, Sky News and their brethren–’outside’ versions of reality that might conflict with their ‘approved’ one.
Here too the hackers get into the act. The huge corporations which launch and operate these billion-dollar satellites wish to extract every ounce of profit they can. Thus, users are often required to buy their dishes and circuitry, and then pay rent to use them. Thus, the ‘decoder box’ black market. Signals are encrypted, the code is broken and bootleg boxes sold, then new software is issued and the cycle begins again. Special signals are sent which fry the illegal boxes, then the hackers build new ones.
There are already suitcase-sized satellite cellular phones, which enable one to place a call from anywhere, even the middle of the ocean. Shortly, these phones will be pocket-sized, and will include computer modems.
A currently popular ad uses the phrase “the future is here.” The folks who best predicted today’s ‘future’ were early science fiction writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Jack London. Some things were missed; spacemen were using slide rules, and computers were gigantic–and willfully malevolent.
Everyone’s looking to the future more earnestly than ever. Who knows what today’s sci-fi writers have right, and what they’re totally missing? Pocket-sized cellular phones are here now. The World Wide Web is connected to ‘live’ cameras all over the world, but these are more silly than ominous. Dick Tracy’s ‘two way wrist TV’ is only a few years off.
Many futurists paint a glowing picture of what technology and the Net will bring us. Saying it will place the world in our hands, and knit it into a Global Village.
The so-called ‘cypherpunks’ are going much further, predicting that the Net will free us from all restraint, hide us from the Law, and eventually create a sort of benevolent anarchy.
Others see a darker picture, where technologies which began as useful tools may entrap us all–before most people even realize it. Examples abound.
Tiny, glass-covered computer-chip implants are now available for use in animals. These are easily checked, for they can be ‘read’ through the skin with a handheld ‘wand.’ Ranchers use them to ‘brand’ prize cattle, while homeowners can identify lost pets. They are just starting to used in human beings, mainly by wealthy people who fear kidnapping, and hope to enable police to locate tham easily.
Gossiping Christians used to say that UPC barcodes would be “the mark of the beast,” but now it’s going to be those discreet little chips. In fact, Big Brother needs no demonic influence to institute such things; the bureaucrats will push it on their own. And most of them will sincerely believe that it’s for the public good! One of my favorite talk show hosts says “if Big Brother ever comes, it will be in the name of efficiency.”
However, the tables can be turned! If these chip implants are promised to be foolproof, officials will rely heavily on them. A clever hacker could reprogram his chip to identify him as the Prince of Luxembourg, or anyone else, and he would stand an excellent chance of being believed.
Critics of the Bible have said that, if Jesus were to descend from the literal clouds, only a few people (upon our spherical Earth) would actually see him. Of course, the ‘heavenly’ purpose of television and satellites is to bring the Good News to everyone on the planet.
Rev. Moon wishes to use the world-spanning Net to, at long last, make education truly universal. An lone African herdsman, beneath a tree in the midst of the vast savanna, could be as tied in as if he were walking the halls of Harvard.
So, which will it be: true world liberation or crushing tyranny? Ultimately, the hearts of everyone; Feds, Scientists and Hackers, will have to change. That’s the only way to be sure that Big Brother -or his Nanny State sister- won’t end up crushing us all. The Principle, and all knowledge, can now flow freely throughout the world. In that vast unfolding future, who knows what possibilities await us!
© 1999 by Paul Carlson
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