2024 — Kafka Meets Orwell

The prelude to a dystopian novel about the absurdity of surveillance in everyday life four years after the outbreak of the great pandemic.

Some­one must have been telling lies about Josef K., because he had done noth­ing wrong, but one day he was quar­an­tined. He was still in bed when the offi­cial mes­sage appeared in his health app. Until the author­i­ties arrived, he was not allowed to leave his apart­ment for the pro­tec­tion of the pub­lic, it said. Any­way, he did­n’t feel like get­ting up, prob­a­bly he had one or two glass­es of wine too many at his lit­tle birth­day par­ty yesterday.

Per­haps the con­ver­sa­tion with a neigh­bor he had met yes­ter­day on his way home had been too loud or too crit­i­cal or just too long because of his exu­ber­ant mood. After all, the neigh­bor was known to the author­i­ties and had already been inter­ro­gat­ed sev­er­al times because of his crit­i­cal atti­tude. Once he had even dis­ap­peared for 10 days.

Cer­tain­ly the old woman from the house oppo­site had some­thing to do with the decree of his quar­an­tine. Noth­ing escaped her watch­ful eyes when she leaned against the open kitchen win­dow, as she did just now, and watched sus­pi­cious­ly what was hap­pen­ing on the street. In report­ing vio­la­tions to con­tact restric­tions or the oblig­a­tion to wear a face masks via her health app she had found a new and appar­ent­ly extreme­ly ful­fill­ing task. There was not much else left for her to do since her grand­chil­dren were only allowed to vis­it her once a month for two hours for her own safety.

Pre­sum­ably she had also not missed his yes­ter­day’s walk and pic­nic in the park with his chil­dren. Since the divorce from her moth­er he saw them only rarely and yes­ter­day was his birth­day after all. Admit­ted­ly, this was no rea­son for them to meet up, the law and the health author­i­ties were relent­less. If his chil­dren had at least parked their car fur­ther away and they just met in the park, the old lady prob­a­bly would­n’t have noticed them.

Or maybe K. had just been inat­ten­tive in the super­mar­ket yes­ter­day when he was shop­ping for their pic­nic and had fall­en short of the pre­scribed min­i­mum dis­tance too often. The health app, which every­one had to car­ry around in pub­lic places on their smart­phones, imme­di­ate­ly record­ed such approach­es and since the update at the end of last year also report­ed them to the author­i­ties with­out delay. Or his face mask had slipped for a moment and the cashier had report­ed it delib­er­ate­ly, which she was oblig­ed to do by the lat­est decree.

Now, in any case, he was not allowed to leave his apart­ment until the police and health author­i­ties arrived. Resis­tance was futile. Any dis­re­gard would be imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized and report­ed. The chip that he, like all the oth­er non-immune peo­ple, wore under the skin in his fore­arm since the Great Pan­dem­ic, would imme­di­ate­ly expose him.

At the time, these chips seemed a good idea for mon­i­tor­ing the health of their wear­ers and quick­ly alert­ing them to symp­toms of infec­tion. In con­junc­tion with the health app, this warn­ing of a pos­si­ble infec­tion could also be sent at the touch of a but­ton to all con­tacts record­ed dur­ing the last few days, in order to inter­rupt the chains of infec­tion as quick­ly as possible.

Every­body was delight­ed to be able to move more or less nor­mal­ly again after half a year of lock­down with this tech­nique. Of course, access to his health data, his con­tacts and his where­abouts had been strict­ly pro­tect­ed in the begin­ning. Oth­er­wise, nev­er would so many have been so will­ing to par­tic­i­pate. In the begin­ning, he still had full con­trol over the data in his health app and only he decid­ed when and if he would pass it on. It was only lat­er, in order to bet­ter research the spread of the virus, as it was called, that the decree came into force that autho­rized the health author­i­ties to have full access to the data.

Since then, only cit­i­zens with offi­cial proof of immu­ni­ty have been allowed to par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic life. Con­tact and trav­el restric­tions had been lift­ed for the Immunes. All non-immune peo­ple had their chip in their arms and always car­ried the health app with them. In addi­tion, they were oblig­ed to wear the white pro­tec­tive masks with green virus sym­bol issued by the author­i­ties as iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in public.

Ini­tial­ly, K. had also tried to get such an offi­cial proof of immu­ni­ty. Final­ly, dur­ing the peak phase of the pan­dem­ic in spring 2020, he had also had a fever and cough. How­ev­er, his con­di­tion improved quick­ly by itself and he nev­er saw a doc­tor, so he was nev­er test­ed for the virus. How­ev­er, after six months, sev­er­al tests and con­sid­er­able admin­is­tra­tive costs, his appli­ca­tion to the health author­i­ties for an offi­cial proof of immu­ni­ty was reject­ed. Now he was not able to sub­mit a new appli­ca­tion again for six months at the ear­li­est. With­out high-rank­ing advo­cates in the author­i­ty, how­ev­er, this seemed to him to be a com­plete waste of time.

To be con­tin­ued — hope­ful­ly not.

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