New technologies to combat “Big Brother” ignorance

Despite reading Orwell’s 1984 with full knowledge that it is a fictional piece of writing, I found it incredibly eerie (and pretty frightening) how easily some of its motifs can be related to our modern life. With efforts by groups like Wikileaks and individuals like Edward Snowden, we are becoming increasingly aware of how although we are living the supposed “land of the free,” there is a ton of information being withheld from us. This information ranges from military activity in foreign countries to domestic tactics of civilian monitoring (remember how media regarding Snowden’s NSA leak was heavily peppered with “Big Brother” references?), and as more of what is masked is revealed, I question what else we don’t know. Orwell shows how it is not only unethical but also psychologically damaging for the presentation of truth to be controlled by one power, and I couldn’t help but think about how scientific literature is often hidden from view. For instance, as we saw in the Josh Fox clip in class the other day, oil companies have withheld studies that prove the dangers with fracking, and to me, this retention of objective knowledge from the public is just as dangerous, unethical, and backwards as not knowing that the government has access to our emails.

Yet, I am optimistic. With increasingly powerful technology, we are able to not only learn more but also to share more. The information that is produced reaches a huge audience, and increasing accessibility to knowledge is one way to combat “Big Brother” ignorance. I am particularly interested in teaching tools put out by organizations like NASA that help visualize vague yet complex terms like “climate change.” I spent some time browsing NASA’s website, and one project that caught my eye was the Global Ice Viewer (see figure below), which uses a combination of time lapse videos, interactive graphics, and historical & contemporary imagery to visual the changes in glaciers, sea ice, and continental ice sheets driven by climate change. Much of the discussion on environmental education is centered on how many fail to understand the concept of climate change when they do not notice the effects of it locally and immediately, and I strongly believe that tools like NASA’s are crucial in helping a larger population realize just how much human activity is damaging Earth’s systems.

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