Understanding Microsoft

Part 28. Big Brother

In George Orwell's classic *1984*, an authoritarian regime known as "Big Brother" ruled over the people, watching their every move, telling them how to think, speak, and live. Every word had a different definition from reality, so that conflicts between what people observed and what Big Brother said could be resolved. Truth is a lie, work is play, conformity is freedom, that sort of thing.

The purpose of all propaganda is to develop a class of mindless, obedient servants who have neither conscience nor initiative. People who do what they are told without flinching, such as concentration camp guards, are a convenient force for dictators to have around, because unquestioning obedience to evil means never having to say you're sorry. It makes things go smoothly if you can have a set of henchmen who go around beating people's heads in without ever feeling pity, remorse, or guilt. It reduces training costs, too, because they don't want to leave. They have found a safe haven from which to carry out their sinister fantasies.

The purpose of observing every move the citizens make is thus to quickly detect any deviation from the enforced norm of obedience. If a subject begins changing their habits of buying, selling, eating, drinking, speaking, or working, then Big Brother wants to know. Why did you change? Who told you to do things differently? What's wrong with you, so we can fix you?

In the "bad old days" of dictatorships and closed societies, that percentage of the population that likes this sort of thing was very active in politics. People who get their jollies from controlling others could find lots of work in political parties, graft machines like Tammany Hall, military dictatorships, and various banana republics and other top-heavy regimes. But the world is changing, and opportunities like that are disappearing. Where is a bully going to find satisfying work nowadays?

The Big Brother mentality has migrated out of politics, to some extent, and taken up residence in big business. Companies like Microsoft use Internet cookie software, automated registration scans of customer hard drives, and sophisticated data tracking systems to observe every detail of their customers' lives. They devour reams of federal financial filings by their competitors to find sources of cash flow to squelch. They use increasingly restrictive license policies to force alternatives and choices out of customers' business lives. They target advertising dollars to make or break specific elements of the media, co-opting them as Microsoft mouthpieces. And then they have the gall to say "This is what the consumer wants" and "We listen to our customers."

"Conformity is freedom" tells customers to mindlessly accept the lowest common denominator of shoddy Microsoft products, and not to investigate superior alternatives like Linux, OS/2, and mainframes. "Work is play" tells customers that every software product must have childish cartoons, infantile color themes, and mindless graphics instead of reliable, informative text. "Truth is a lie" tells customers that technological realities are unimportant, just accept the software slop you're given because there are no principles of science to violate, no laws of good product design to disobey, so what's under the covers doesn't matter anyway.

Should we really be surprised, then, to hear of the antics of Microsoft minions and henchmen like Steve Ballmer, Joachim Kempin, David Cutler, and their cohorts? Microsoft's goal of growth at all costs provides these head-bashers with a steady supply of fresh meat. This generation's bullies have found a safe haven.

Most recent revision: February 3, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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