The book was written and the title chosen before my attention was drawn to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, published in English in 1924. I have only my ignorance to blame, for Zamyatin’s work is an important early dystopian novel, inspiring Orwell’s 1984 and influencing many others.
I did look for another title (Cold Eden seemed a possibility, although this again was not original.) But nothing else captured with such short, stark simplicity the theme I wanted to write about - the place of the individual in the larger group. So We it remains. I, too, owe a debt to the great Russian. And I don’t feel bad about that. Not with Orwell’s footprints before me on the road.
Orwell and Zamyatin wrote in the context of the early and mid-twentieth century, which saw the rise of powerful totalitarian states founded on the argument that “we” – the people as a whole – were far more important than “I” – meaning you, the individual. That “We” fed itself upon show trials, purges, mass murder, and war. Against it, the “I” had no appeal. It was terrifying. “If you want a picture of the future,” Orwell wrote in 1984, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”
In the twenty-first century, those clouds have parted. The worst dictators are dead. Their armies are defeated or have rusted away. But the “we” is of course always with us. It has to be. We (ahem) would never achieve anything if we were only a collection of random “I”s. So where does the balance between “we” and “I” now lie, in our comfortable, liberal, if slightly bankrupt societies? And what seeds have we sown that could transform it?
Look at the screen on which this is written. Consider what lies behind it. All those connections, all that information.
Think about how you use it.
…And fast forward fifty years…