“Big brother is watching” is a warning that is uttered to refer to all-encompassing surveillance. A sign that, even if not articulated, is exemplified, facilitated, and manifested through our wholesale embrace of technology.
The source of this statement is George Orwell’s prophetic novel 1984, a novel depicting a dystopian existence, where human behavior, actions, and words, are heavily policed by the state.
Yet the Orwellian prophecy that once created a dismal existence, where children spied on their parents and reported them to the authorities, failed to anticipate our reality.
A video of Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO, during an interview at Davos in 2018, recently resurfaced and went viral. Bourla discussed the technological advances related to health, and he mentioned an ingestible pill that Pfizer didn’t create, but the technology fascinated him. Once ingested by a patient, the pill contains a chip that can alarm health providers whether the patient has taken their medicine or not. Bourla added, “imagine the applications. Imagine the compliance.”
In all fairness to the Pfizer CEO, the pill was created to assist dementia patients in managing other health troubles that could aggravate due to forgetting to take their medication. The pill’s aim is noble and can help those plagued with forgetfulness. However, the cost of this antidote can be pretty steep.
In The Phaedrus, one of the Plato’s dialogues, he recounts the story of the invention of writing. The inventor presents to the Egyptian king the letters that will cure memory. The inventor claims that his letters are the pharmakon, the medicine that will strengthen human memory and conquer forgetfulness.
The wise king concurs that the letters are pharmakon, not the medication but the poison that will debilitate human memory. Writing, the king foresees, will create dependence within human souls that will further weaken their memory rather than reinforce it. The king ultimately says: “You have not discovered a drug for memory, but for reminding.”
Interestingly, the story uses pharmakon, medicine, and poison to describe writing.
Medicine makes us feel safe and distant from disease. Medicine gives us hope. It allows us to surmount human vulnerability. Nevertheless, reflecting on our current state of affairs, we can claim that the role of medicine morphed from curing diseases to curing the human condition.
The medical profession has expanded its hegemony over the natural course of human life. Aging was once considered a natural phase of human life. A phase where one should be cared for by loved ones that were once dependents and have now become caretakers.
Directly, pills are ingested to remind a patient to take their medicine.
The Pfizer CEO’s zeal regarding what can be called a tracking device is of concern. The sedentary life only made possible due to medical and technological advances should scare us all.
The historian Yuval Harrari once claimed that Google knows more about your biological condition than yourself. The information that Google gathers through your search history and queries is then sold to interested third parties who profit from your fears.
Freud once described dreams as the royal road to understanding personality. In dreams, hidden desires and fears that once lurked within the unconscious are given expression in the form of symbols. Freud deduced that dream interpretation provides unadulterated insight into a patient’s unconscious and a patient’s personality.
Today, you don’t need to bother with psychoanalysis to understand a person’s needs and desires. A person willingly shares this information on social media.
Based on this person’s persona, the algorithm makes suggestions of topics of interest, people of interest, and products of interest. The algorithm doesn’t merely get an unadulterated insight through our dreams. It reveals our underlying desires, thoughts, and fears and profits from them.
Perhaps the pill is being created to help patients alert their caretakers to take their medicine. But one could argue that there is something fundamentally wrong with being reminded to take care of a loved one.
One should be wary of a pill that tracks your biological status and reports it to others. One should be aware that one’s voice, feelings, and expression of pain will no longer be relevant. You will no longer be heard. Big brother is no longer simply watching. Big brother is within you, and he knows you more than you know yourself.