In 1948 George Orwell wrote a book about a sinister dictator called Big Brother, who watches every move his citizens make (you probably know this). I wonder what Orwell would have thought if told that 70 years later we would happily give all our personal information away?
Big Brother would be Enormous Brother if he lived today; he’d never need get off his hairy fat arse. We continually tell the world, where we are, who we’re with, what we ate and whether there was a cute animal involved. There is it seems almost nothing we won’t photograph and slap on our timelines. Some people even feel the need to pass judgement on the quality of every single book they read and write about it at great length.
Kim Curran, author of the excellent ‘Shift’ series, writes compelling and highly relevant YA fiction. Glaze is a slap around the face for her readers. She wants them to wake up and see how much of themselves they are giving away. Set in London in the near future, ‘Glaze’ is the only social media app you need. It’s like Google that automatically knows what you want, combined with a live data feed for every person and object you encounter. Due to the requirement to have a chip in your brain, entry age is restricted to 16. Pre-glazers are desperate to be on, post glazers have more or less checked out of the real world. The lure, every piece of information available about everything, whenever you want it. The rub? Well that’s what the book is about.
Petri (so called for a fab reason that I won’t spoil) is not yet on Glaze. All her friends are, but as she is year ahead in school, they are all sixteen and she isn’t. It is, as one might say at that age, ‘not fair’. Petri and her friends attend a protest, when the police turn up things start to go wrong. When private law enforcers from the company that owns Glaze turn up, things become more sinister. Petri makes a run for it, but ultimately gets caught. A tough sentence comes her way; a five year ban from Glaze. He life may as well be forfeit.
This novel isn’t quite as smooth as the other two of Curran’s novels I’ve read. The plot is helped along rather roughly by the odd coincidence or fortuitous intervention. Nevertheless this is a great read. In many ways it’s the message rather than the story that’s important here. Characterisation again is strong, as is Curran’s dialogue; she has a good ear for the spoken word and it never feels forced or contrived.
The novel is in essence 1984 remoulded for our wireless generation. Big Brother uses his position to make decisions for the sake of people, and employs mass surveillance to make his world run smooth. In our world we give this information freely, and it doesn’t seem too many steps before Google or something like it are no longer giving us what we want, but what it wants us to have. If information is power then a system that controls the flow of information sits at the top of the world. If a company starts to control what we do and where and when we do it, what does that mean for our civil liberties? If we freely hand power over to large corporations and governments are our liberties even being infringed? We’re well on the way to this exact scenario, and with Glaze, Curran walks further down the path in search of its logical conclusion.
Glaze is an excellent book. It projects a credible future and reveals the potential all of us have to be complicit in our own downfall. With the novel’s target audience being the most voracious users of social media, let us hope that it give them pause for thought before they unwittingly click their liberties away.