War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU
Thus begins George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian novel about a bleak future in which man is wholly subservient to the state, a state which maintains power through constant surveillance, propaganda, and mind control. The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to insure the state is always proven to be correct and omniscient. It is a bleak world in which the State’s existence is driven by the desire to have power as an end in and of itself. As Winston’s torturer explained, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” 1984 has come and gone and I believe that more than ever Big Brother is constrained because of the developments seen in global communication networks, mobile devices, and social media. However, global networks are and will be challenged by a highly connected global population, increasingly putting words, voice, and video onto global web platforms in real time.
To get an idea around the size of today’s global communications networks we can look at the Global Internet Map from Telegeography:
Today’s communications systems are capable of circumnavigating the globe and reaching customers on 6 of 7 continents. These networks are capable of carrying staggering amounts of voice, video, and data. According to Graeme McMillan of Techland, the Internet consumes enough traffic in one hour to fill 7 million DVDs. This level of data consumption is being driven not only by content, but the tools that create this content. Many of which are in the hands of everyday people.
In 2010 there were an estimated 2 billion Internet users worldwide. With a global population of close to 7 billion that means close to 30% of the global population has access to the Internet. While that is an impressive number, the number of worldwide mobile subscriptions during the same year hit 5.1 billion, representing fully 74.5% of the worlds population with access to a mobile service. According to research from Strategy Analytics almost 1 billion of the mobile phones sold in 2010 had camera functionally and over 4 billion camera phones have shipped since 2000. That’s billions of Little Brothers and Sisters with digital eyes and digital voices, watching and reporting what Big Brother is doing in real time. Imagine the massive amounts of data that is being pushed from all of these devices? And, while these devices have made capturing events easy. It is the growth of social media that is giving these billions a global platform for distribution.
On June 20th, 2009 a young woman was traveling to a protest rally in Iran when she was fatally shot in the chest. The video of her death was posted on the Internet and went viral making Neda Soltan an instant symbol of the protest movement. Twitter became a source for following the events with the #neda hashtag, which became one of the “trending topics” by the end of the day. While the Iranian protests have not been successful, yet, Facebook has been credited with helping to overturn the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Even today in Libya, reporters are scouring Twitter and live video feeds streamed on from Libya to truly understand what is happening. As these events unfold, instantaneous demand for content grows. Egypt saw demand grow from 800 Mbps to 2700 Mbps on January 27th, before the government shut down the network. That was one day, Chartbeat and Al Jazeera produced a visual for page views over the 18 days of protests in Egypt, excerpt below (click on image for link to full data set):
Amazingly, global networks were able to scale to accommodate the spikes in demand for information allowing the news and images to flow.
As global networks grow, ever increasing numbers of the world’s population will use connected devices, and web platforms to keep an eye on Big Brother. It should be quite difficult for the “Ministry of Truth” to rewrite history, as literally billions of little eyes will be recording it. As global providers we will be challenged to keep up with the proliferation of data, voice, and video on our networks. Ultimately, as the past few months have shown, the global community of network providers has been able to step up to the challenge and I believe if you want a picture of the future, “Imagine a camera phone in front of a human face recording the truth for the whole world to see.”