Big Brother and Little Sister · 25 May 2024

George Orwell thought that Big Brother was always out there listening. He was somewhat prophetic, but it is not Big Brother who is listening, it is Little Sister.

(Before I start, I must apologize if you or your child is named Alexa or Siri. No. I am not going to complain about those cute names for insidious devices, but I will mention them a time or two. Oh. And just for fun, you might want to read this blog post out loud. You never know what might happen.)

It has been a long time since I read the book 1984, but I remember that it seemed farfetched back then. After all, I read it sometime in the 1980s, so it seemed unlikely that the government could change so drastically. Or that seemingly every electronic device would be a listening device to keep tabs on everybody. Big Brother was surely never going to appear on the scene. At least not by 1984.

Today, over seventy years from George Orwell’s writing (and forty years from my reading), it is not the Big Brother-wielding, totalitarian government we should fear (hopefully), it is the Little Sister-wielding big business that we should be wary of. Yes, Siri and Alexa are surely listening. And when they listen, all of a sudden, you are getting ads everywhere about whatever it was you told little sister, Alexa, or her older sister, Siri. Well, not quite. You are getting ads about anything you talked about within listening distance of either sister.

By the way, some people have nicknames for their listening devices. When they want to talk about Alexa or Siri, they say something like “What’s her name” or “You know who.” It’s kinda like they don’t remember or that they are afraid Lord Voldemort will curse them just for mentioning his name. It is a clever ploy. After all, instead of saying that you want to maybe order something by talking to Alexa, you can just say, “I’m thinking of asking what’s her name to order more toilet paper in case the pandemic starts up again.” Or “Maybe we should ask you know who for directions.” Or even “Let’s get Lord Voldemort to order us some books.”

Personally, I think I am going to start calling our listening devices Little Sister. Think about it. Some little sisters listened to their older siblings and ran away saying, “I’m gonna tell Mom.” Or they blackmailed you into doing something for them because you said something that she should not have overheard. Not that my little sister ever did that to me, but there are at least literary examples of little sisters who do. At least I think so.

At any rate.

I do not mind asking Little Sister for directions. “Siri, do you know the way to San Jose?” Or to help me figure out the name of singers of songs. “Alexa, who sings the song, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” But I wonder if Little Sister is really that smart. After all, Alexa might want give us the directions to get to Dionne Warwick’s house instead of telling us that Dionne Warwick sang the song. And Siri might check to see if the song is in our library or more probably, ask us whether we want to buy it.

But seriously. I do wonder about all the listening devices in our houses and on our persons. I wonder if our computers and our phones and our TVs and pretty much every electronic device listens to us and tells Little Sister everything. I wonder if just thinking out loud might accidentally have Alexa send us a few pallets of toilet paper.

When it comes down to it, I do not know whether Big Brother is out there listening or not, but I am sure Little Sister is. So much so that it might even frighten George Orwell.

(By the way, if you read this out loud and your doorbell is ringing, do not blame me if you have a pallet of toilet paper in your driveway.)

© 2024 Michael T. Miyoshi

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