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For children: Why the year 1984 isn't scary after all

The year 1984 is more than just a special year that produces a presidential election in the United States, the summer and winter Olympics, and 29 days in February.

''1984'' is also the title of a best-selling book. It is a novel about future gloom and doom. The author was the Englishman George Orwell. Actually, his real name was Eric Arthur Blair.

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Over the years the book ''1984'' became something of a bogeyman, describing a dreaded future time when there would be no individual liberty. It was a world where the government had absolute control. A state that has total control of its citizens is called a totalitarian state.

This depressing view of what life was supposed to be like in the future was written by a very pessimistic man. Pessimism is having someone constantly take a negative attitude toward life.

Happily, the kind of world that Orwell imagined in the future has not happened. Many of the events that he forecast never took place. There now seems less and less chance that they will happen in the future. Take, for example, the suggestion that by now England would have gone communist. If anything, it is moving in quite the opposite direction.

Another idea was that England would be far worse off today than back in 1948, when Orwell's book was written. He predicted that the people of England would be living in terrible conditions by now. Instead, while there still is some poverty in England, the people of that country are far more prosperous now than they were back in 1948.

Probably the biggest prediction he made was that Big Brother, which stands for the overwhelming power and authority of the state, would be watching over us and spying on us practically every moment of the day - even in the privacy of our homes. This was supposed to occur through a two-way television system. It was one of Orwell's ways of saying how technology was going to take over our lives.

So far there is not a single country in the world that has controlled its society as much as that featured in ''1984.'' Even the Soviet Union, which was the model Orwell used for his novel, has not gone that far.

One important reason that the Western democracies (particularly the United States) have not trotted after Big Brother is that the tradition of liberty and freedom is felt and valued so strongly in the West.

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At the same time, everybody knows that these values have to be cherished and protected. If they are not, we could still have ''1984'' at some later date.

Because ''1984'' was the title of the book he wrote, it didn't mean that Orwell firmly believed that the things he forecast would definitely happen in that particular year. Back in 1948, the title had no real significance other than suggesting a future time.

It was Orwell's book publisher who gave the book its title. He took the year 1948, when it was written, and simply switched the last two digits around to make it 1984.

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