back to article Thanks, NSA: Amazon sales of Orwell's 1984 rise 9,500%

A glance at the "Movers and Shakers" page of Amazon shows there's been an unusual reaction to the current NSA spying scandal: sales of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four are up 9,538 per cent. It was somewhat ironic that the news of the NSA's systematic slurping of phone records and the subsequent …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oldthinkers unbellyfeel PRISM, PRISM doubleplus good!

    Mintruth work doubleplushard on prolefeed...

    Ungoodthinkers go joycamp.


    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      If it was just that

      Note the other high risers on the list:

      The Eye of Moloch:

      Kennedy's Last Days:


      Big Data - A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think:

      Food for thought... And for choking on your morning coffee...

  2. Steven Roper

    Orwell vs Huxley

    The famous comic depicting Neil Postman's comparison between Orwell and Huxley ("The possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right") can be found here.

    The poster on that blog makes a salient point about both Orwell and Huxley being right. Huxley focused more on the social aspects of a dystopia, while Orwell focused more on the political aspects, and that there are elements of both in our own society.

    Huxley did not dwell on the idea of the populace being kept under mass surveillance. His postulated means of controlling the populace lay in eugenics rather than enforcement; vis-a-vis the "Deltas", genetically engineered babies with only a limited capacity of intelligence and none at all for resistance or independence. But for us, eugenics is taboo, and we emphasise education and achievement - in Huxley's terms, we are trying to create a society of all Alphas, which Huxley stated could not work. Hence the need for Orwellian surveillance such as PRISM and its ilk, the better to keep the "Party members" in check.

    On the other hand, while we cannot ethically engage in Bokanovsky's Process, we can dumb down the education system to ensure that the proles don't become too intelligent. The pervasion of political correctness and critical theory into public schools is part of this mechanism - to instill the process of orthodox thinking into the children and to ostracise and punish those who commit "thoughtcrime" - that is, who don't adhere to the dictates of political correctness. In this, the education process has become largely Orwellian, in that today's schools have much in common with Orwell's "Spies" and "Youth League" children's organisations. One can even see the likeness of radical feminism in Orwell's "Junior Anti-Sex League" and "Artsem".

    Yet there is also a Huxleyan element; Huxley depicted schools that emphasised fun over learning, and forcibly induced children who sought to go their own way back into group activities. At no time were children punished in Huxley's version, they were simply psychologically pressured into compliance. Our schools also feature this element of psychological engagement and de-emphasis on punishment, and thus it can be seen that the education system, like society, embodies both Orwellian and Huxleyan concepts.

    In the end, both Orwell and Huxley were right, insofar as Orwell correctly predicted invasive surveillance via technology, and the use of "goodthinkful" (aka politically correct) indoctrination processes to ensure political obedience, while Huxley correctly predicted the trivialisation and commodification of entertainment and human endeavour to ensure social compliance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Orwell vs Huxley

      well put sir. Regretably, we now have the problem of asking if one or more posters are agent provocateurs to flush out potential dissentters. Ah, paranoiai, if that was true many would not be here to comment. Or maybe the goons are busy elsewhere. Or maybe ElReg not important enough, yet. However I note the cultural trend to use ad-hominem attacks on those posting a dissenting opinion is alive and well.. A useful tool for applying pressure. Amazing what nonsense can be posited merely because the magic word "science" is somewhere in the flame stream.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Orwell vs Huxley

        > well put sir. Regretably, we now ha ..

        Is this amanfromMars, cause you sure sound like him ...

    2. JCitizen

      Re: Orwell vs Huxley

      TOTALLY! Shades of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" HA!

      1. Simon Brady

        Re: Orwell vs Huxley

        > TOTALLY! Shades of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" HA!

        Or the Roger Waters solo album Amused to Death, which was inspired by Postman.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Orwell vs Huxley

      Your picture misses Ira Levin.

      While we do not terminate pensioners as per "This Perfect Day" we do add to the Orwellian and Huxleyan society the wonderful "make people happy and compliant" chemical aspect.

      Last time I checked 15% or so of the adult population in UK/US was having their "mood" adjusted by antidepressants. The percentage of children glazed with ritaline is lower than that, but not entirely unsignificant either.

      Otherwise, well spotted sir - a beer to that (without prozac in it)

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: Orwell vs Huxley

        "While we do not terminate pensioners as per "This Perfect Day""

        Hmm, Liverpool Care Pathway.

      2. Captain Hogwash

        Re: "make people happy and compliant" chemical aspect

        Huxley had this. It was called Soma.

    4. Identity

      Re: Orwell vs Huxley

      It's interesting to note that the US public school system was designed by Horace Mann to fit the sons and daughters of captains of industry to be captains of industry, and the sons and daughters of line workers to be line workers — and this in the early 19th century!

    5. SoaG
      Thumb Up

      Re: Orwell vs Huxley

      I unreservedly recommend to all Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves To Death. Written in the TV era but all the more relevant in the age of the internet and smart phones.

      Also a letter from Huxley to his former pupil, Orwell, after the publication of 1984:

      Bread and circuses people, bread and circuses.

    6. Colin Millar
      Big Brother

      Re: Orwell vs Huxley

      I wouldn't get too tied up with the morality of eugenics. Huxley's broad point was that people would know their place and stick to it.

      The recurring theme (in these books and many others) is the loss of power to the broad middle leading to the crisis point. As more power is concentrated in fewer hands things get more polarised (the interminable and ill-defined war on something in 1984 and the terror people feel about the outsider in BNW).

      To me Huxley's was the more intelligent book as it acknowledged the transitive nature of human devices - things fall apart - but that's another story.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    How is the Other Blair (or is it "Lord" Blair) doing these days, btw?

    A pretty good interpretation: 1984 as satire about the Socialist program of the Fabians:

    The 60th Anniversary of Orwell’s 1984 / Friday, 27 November 2009

    In parts of India where Orwell during his early years lived with his family, Big Brother means the close relative who provides financial support to the family. Orwell, remembering the 1942 Beveridge Report, which was used by Clement Atlee in 1945 as a campaign issue, knew that the full Beveridge package comprised more than a National Health Service. It included paid postpartum leave for mothers, child support, compulsory education until college, part-time vocational education, free lunches for students, pay

    raises for teachers, improved physical education, unemployment insurance, job priority for veterans, welfare for youth, training for the handicapped, government housing around parks, and even payment of funeral expenses. It was literally cradle-to-grave security. It required new ministries to be built and filled with bureaucrats, in which government holds total power over its citizens. Orwell believed that power over citizens would grow annually until, by the calendar year 1984, Fabian socialists, who were always increasing their numbers through university education, would become sufficiently numerous to remain perpetually in power. No revolution could ever overthrow them.

    Orwell saw firsthand how younger Fabians rose to power in proportion to their ability to engage in self-censure, teamwork, and shared journalism and broadcasting. They preferred comrades who tamed emotions and individuality, and showed loyalty to an international brotherhood. The new Fabians as a social class comprised professors, scientists, technologists, advertisers, journalists, public relations specialists, labor union leaders, and celebrities. They represented a collectivistic oligarchy always expanding their oppressive reach into private lives. ...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Distortion of Orwell views ..

      Do you have any verifiable citations to show where Orwell actually said 1984 was a satire on fabian socialism. It seems to me that the article engages in a number of logical contortations in order to join the two. The kind of thought process exhibited, remind me of something a right-winger once said on the telly. To paraphrase from memory .. 'The current economic recession was caused by the Marshall Plan`. I don't understand that one either.

    2. JCitizen

      Re: How is the Other Blair (or is it "Lord" Blair) doing these days, btw?

      Very good synopsis - but the Berlin wall fell - didn't it?

    3. Daniel B.

      Re: How is the Other Blair (or is it "Lord" Blair) doing these days, btw?

      Um... actually Orwell basically put into 1984 the experience of what happened with the USSR and Spain; the former having the "socialist revolution" perverted into a totalitarian state, Spain turning into a fascist state (which unfortunately remained as such for far longer than it should've had). He was actually made an unperson overnight in Spain, and had to flee the country thanks to Franco.

      Basically, he used 1984 to warn people about what could happen with "the revolution". Unfortunately, some governments seem to use it as a guideline instead...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People are so F'en dumb

    Anyone past the age of 6 should know that they are being monitored 24/7. If this comes as a shock or revelation to people over the age of 6, you should consider pulling your head out of your arse. It's not like the world is coming to an end. Has your life been undone by the NSA monitoring phone/internet traffic patterns? Of course not. Educate yourself instead of displaying the typical clueless knee-jerk reaction and being mis-led by the media.

    1. Winkypop Silver badge

      Re: People are so F'en dumb

      ...says an anonymous coward...

      1. Anonymous Cowerd

        @Winkypop re: anonymous coward

        "..says an anonymous coward..."

        Whereas, of course, Winkypop is your real name...

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: @Winkypop re: anonymous coward @ Anonymous Cowerd

          The point is, there is only one "Winkypop" on El Reg's comments board, and so his/her posting history can be verified if necessary. Posting AC means the comments are lost in the noise of other ACs - and thus become meaningless.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: People are so F'en dumb

      You are absolutely right, Anonymous Coward ("People are so F'en dumb" @15:08), and it was especially thoughtful of you to provide an example.

    3. Schultz
      Thumb Up

      Re: People are so F'en dumb

      I congratulate you, AC, you seem to be the perfect model citizen of our modern world.

      We need more newthinkers like you that totally get it. Teach the people to bellyfeel and to embrace blackwhite -- and we'll live in perfect security and harmony. Eternal vigilance against terrorism and thoughtcrime!

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: People are so F'en dumb

        You're right AC people should educate themselves.

        Lets start with looking at history.

        Previous surveillance societies how did they start?

        How did they stay in power?

        Why did they come to power?

        Did they start out evil?

        How did most of them turn out huh?

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon

          Re: People are so F'en dumb

          People who say they are ok with this level of surveillance have simply not touched the boundaries of their prison yet.

          When the walls are brought in closer, you may yet feel them, but of course, it is too late - because you are in prison and went there willingly because it felt safer than the 'big wide world'.

          1. Identity

            Re: People are so F'en dumb

            I often ask people who aver that surveillance is OK because they have nothing to hide if they have curtains...

          2. Snake Silver badge

            Re: People are so F'en dumb, AC 05:08

            I'll agree with AC 05:08 - people ARE F'en dumb.

            "People who say they are ok with this level of surveillance have simply not touched the boundaries of their prison yet."

            You have been at an even HIGHER level of surveillance for YEARS, probably closer to DECADES. You've been tracked, IP recorded, email archived, phone calls referenced, credit card recorded, cookied, purchase history mass mailing targeted, banner ad spammed, Twitter feed documented, Facebook listed, Google Scroogled and customer feedback traced by just about every single private for-profit (and, let's add, non-for-profit) business entity in practical existence.

            Yet THAT does not bother most people. And THAT is what AC 05:08 is saying.

            You idiots give out your personal information to just about any private entity that asks for it - hell, there are SANDWICH SHOPS that ask for your home phone number just to 'register' a bonus points card where I work (all true) - and people don't give it a second thought.

            But when the GOVERNMENT gets just a SECTION of that data...ooh, terror!!

            But what, exactly, are the businesses that have the information in the first place DOING with all that info? Making money off of it [you], that's what.

            And what do they DO with that money?

            THAT'S where you people should be paying attention...because you've happily been told not to look at the man behind the curtain. While he throws money at politicos to get his way with one hand...and stabs you in the back with the other.

            Robots, one and all.

            1. Squander Two

              A teensy leetle difference.

              You're right: I'm not bothered that companies ask me for my data and then use it to try and sell me stuff that I want to buy at a price I'm willing to pay and give me special offers and occasional freebies, yet strangely do care when the entity that runs the police and the military and has the power to imprison or kill me takes my data without permission, often breaking its own laws to do so, and uses it to destroy my privacy and curtail my freedoms. Madness, right?

    4. Squander Two

      Re: People are so F'en dumb

      What Anonymous Coward appears to be saying here is "If you suspect it's happening, you must not oppose it."

      Did I miss something salient? Cause that would just be stupid, right?

    5. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: People are so F'en dumb

      Perhaps not yet. And before we get into the "if you have nothing to hide" that seems inevitable, but was oddly missing from your comment, there is the matter of what might not be anything of interest to the spooks today, might tomorrow turn out to be very much interest to them.

      Quote from Marin Niemoller comes to mind:

      First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

  5. Barry Dingle

    Wish I was smart

    enough to change the world through an online comment. And also to have printed a Liberator gun before my 3D printer jammed. Dammit.

  6. Great Bu

    The Computer is Your Friend

    Please continue to enjoy your Bouncy Bubble Beverage whilst the re-education Vulture Squad comes to collect you.

    1. Helena Handcart
      Thumb Up

      Re: The Computer is Your Friend

      Stay alert. Trust no one. Keep your laser handy.

  7. frank ly

    An Orwellian situation?

    I have an e-book copy of 1984. I didn't buy it, I downloaded it from a 'well known' website hosted in Australia, where 1984 is legally out of copyright. I was in the UK when I downloaded it. Have I broken the 'law'? What the is going on here?

  8. Waspy
    Big Brother

    Apathy tends to rule these days...

    Yeah I tend to agree that we are far more closer to Huxley's vision than Orwell's - I don't really use Facebook that much but posted a link to the breaking PRISM story thinking it might be interesting and stir up some debate...and it stirred up fuck all. People were too busy posteing pictures of their cats/children/pets or complainng abouit the postman being late or some other triviality to care. It's really sad.

    Interestingly, I am from a unique generation (I am 30) that has seen the Web develop and explode from when I was a teenager, so whilst it has been around in some form or another for most of my adult life, I can remember a time when it was not ubiquitous. Chatting to a friend who is about 5 years younger than me last night, it seems there is far more apathy amongst him and his peers than with those my age. He seemed to be resigned to the fact that "we know it has been happening for years anyway, and I've got nothing to hide". I fear we are sleepwalking into this whole situation, and this also makes me sad.

    Speaking of Huxley, Orwell and having nothing to hide, don't forget about Yevgeny Zamyatin's 'We', the story that inspired both 1984 and Brave New World...the characters in that novel live in glass houses and do everything at the same time because they had nothing to hide...and it is a truly horrible existence.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Apathy tends to rule these days...

      "He seemed to be resigned to the fact that "we know it has been happening for years anyway, and I've got nothing to hide"."

      Apathy is the great friend of all authoritarian groups, whatever "political" view they spout.

      " and I've got nothing to hide". "

      Funny how people say that until you ask them to give you their bank account # & PIN, social security or NI # etc.

      And of the kicker

      Until The State decides you do.

      And if they are not smart enough to realize that they are pretty dumb.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apathy tends to rule these days...

      I think we're much closer to Orwell and have been for a long time.

      The biggest example of this is Political correctness / the equality doctrine.

      Equality was, is and will always be a nonsense - especially when the Fabians want to deliver equality of outcome. There was the recent case of the Harvard professor, who was hounded out of his job for pointing out objectively the IQ distributions between different racial groups. The objective scientific truth didn't matter - it offended the PC witch-hunt brigade and he was gone.

      In the UK you can see this in things like the elevation of Mary Seacole. Rod Liddle has written extensively about the situation where history is re-written to "rebalance" ethnic representations.

      In both of these cases, the key observation is that objective truth is deemed unacceptable and is then re-written - completely in tune with "We are at war with EastAsia" from 1984...

      1. Waspy

        Re: Apathy tends to rule these days...

        Hmm, which Harvard professor was this? I am not totally dimissing your point, but your argument seems to miss the subtleties and context such equality laws were drawn up around - the reason discussions about racial differences are so taboo in our current Western society is arguably due to the horror that was realised by the Nazis when objective discourse and debate about ethnic traits, drawbacks and positives was turned into genocide by a warped view of the theories. On top that, the so-called theories unscientific and were probably tainted from the outset anyway, having been forged in the minds of imperialistic, arogant and racist Victorians. IQ is difficult to measure, and effects on groups/populations' intelligence can be afffected by an infinite set of external factors so I am interested to see what that particular professor's argument was. Highly qualified academics can sometimes be spectacularly wrong and unscientific too.

        But yes, to simply believe that everyone can live a completely equal outcome is naive, I agree...but the important thing to aim for is to increase the base level for all people. People have inalienble human rights and should not be subject to poverty, so I disagree slightly with what I think is the gist of your post.

      2. Rukario

        Re: Apathy tends to rule these days...

        > There was the recent case of the Harvard professor, who was hounded out of his job for pointing out objectively the IQ distributions between different racial groups.

        Sounds like Jean Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario.

    3. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: Apathy tends to rule these days...

      The world has been flooded with a massive tidal wave of mindless shit, we're drowning in a torrent of drivel that keeps the docile masses happy and stupid. From reality TV to mindless pap spouted on Facebook posts and Twitter, we crave information and we don't care what it is we just won't more and more as we don't want to risk being the one person who doesn't know something. The social network sites prey on this fear that we'll fall out of the loop for one second. They use fluffy terms like "friends" "buddies" and such like, all to make us feel cosy while we spill our guts to the world and his dog. They mop it up, recycle it a billion time, attach some advertising and rake in the profit.

      Those in charge love all this. They love the fact that we're all slaves to the power of gossip and triviality, it stops us thinking about or even becoming aware of the real problems that are occurring in the world.

      One day we're at war with Oceania then a rumour spreads through Facebook and Twitter, next we're at war with Eurasia...

  9. JimmyPage

    How about "A Clockwork Orange" ?

    I would argue we're looking more like the future imagined in that book ...

  10. fpx

    If It's Not On Google, It Does Not Exist

    Another real-life parallel to 1984 -- though not quite true today -- is that history only exists online, and can be modified as necessary.

    These days, we Google for information or browse to Wikipedia, and both have an incredible amount of power over what people consider to be true.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fun fact: My school confiscated my copy of 1984.

    Plusfun fact: Laughing as your teacher confiscates items annoys your teacher.

    1. MrXavia
      Big Brother

      Did you explain the irony in it?

      1. Mister_C

        Or offer your copy of Farenheit 451 and a box of Swan Vestas?

  12. Rufusstan
    Big Brother

    A Clockwork Orange Is a weird fit to this, because it is more about the state scrambling to find a way of dealing with an element of society ('the kids') that is totally out of its control. That said, there are plenty of signs of it throughout most youth culture (the fact that the phrase itself is used is a good starting point). Luckily, a bit of the old Ultraviolence is still pretty rare.

    The really sad bit is that the discussion is all about which dystopian future we are resembling. (rather than are we or not?)

    The only upside is it reminds me just how long its been since I read any of them, so I might be adding to Amazon's 9500%

    1. Amorous Cowherder

      Given the fact that kids these days are more docile than any previous generation, not afraid to constant tell the world and his dog their every move, not having any concept of privacy, we're heading away from the Clockwork Orange at a rapid rate.

      Teenage rebellion, has to a certain extent, always been an engineered fallacy but these days it's truly a work of the utmost incredible fiction that the master the late Mr Banks would be proud.

      Example for consideration. Kids at Marilyn Manson gigs many moon ago chanting "Kill Your Parents!" in the main hall while Mum and Dad sit patiently in the specially laid on parents waiting area for their little Johnny or Joanne to finish pretending to be rebels in the gig next door.

      Angst and rebellion is orchestrated by lots of men and women in expensive Soho office marketing company suites paid huge sums of money to makes kids believe they're something they chose to be when in fact they're exactly what they've been molded to be.

      1. SoaG

        Where it gets really weird is... a divorcee now dating women* in their 30s and 40s how many are obsessed with getting tatoos and piercings and pink hair because they still think they're rebelling against...something? Kinda? Maybe?

        'Youth culture' is becoming the culture.

        *I'm sure there's just as many 40 year old men trying to be 14 again, but I'm not meeting them to be able to say how it's manifesting.

      2. Mike VandeVelde
        Black Helicopters

        kids these days

        kids these days are making glow in the dark pigs, growing human ears on the backs of rats, building pocket supercomputers, virtual reality systems, wiring up a nervous system for the planet, building space stations and planning trips to the moon and mars.

        kids these days are getting their heads cracked at protests against the wto, the war in iraq, the g8, the 1%, permitted free speech zones, kettled up into mass holding pens, denied permission to travel.

        i wouldnt call kids these days docile.

        kids will (hopefully) always end up laughing at whatever primitive clubs the old fogeys come up with to try and control them. things are getting strange for sure, but dont lose sight of the fact that nothing lasts forever. there are ways to tap into relatively recent innovations in communications, but faster and faster that will change. im doubtful that usa intelligence will ever again have as much access to global communications as they do currently.

  13. David Cantrell
    Black Helicopters

    It's being bought by civil servants, to use not as a warning but as an instruction manual.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "an instruction manual"

    "It's being bought by civil servants, to use not as a warning but as an instruction manual."


    They all got their copies during the Blair/Blunkett/Straw era.

    This must be something else.

  15. Captain Hogwash
    Big Brother

    Huxley & Orwell were both right

    An increasing number of people don't care what's happening because they're so preoccupied with various forms of entertainment (Huxley.) The equipment used to deliver entertainment is also used for surveillance (Orwell.) When the former fails to keep someone under control, data gathered via latter is used frighten and coerce. If you don't rock the boat you'll never be aware of the Orwellian component.

    1. Captain Hogwash

      If you want a vision of the future,

      imagine not so much a boot stamping on a human face - forever, as a dispassionate American female voice greeting you with the words "Welcome to Utopia. Happiness is mandatory."

  16. andy gibson

    9500% sounds a lot but....

    How many actual sales were there? My maths is a little rusty but doesn't it mean that they sold 96 copies, as opposed to one?

    As considering its an anniversary, wouldn't that account for some of those sales, rather than claiming a link with some NSA scandal? Particularly after seeing what other "movers and shakers" have sales increases.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More proof

    More proof that many people are idiots and unable to actually think for themselves. A dumbarse over reaction to nothing of substance is good for the media.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Next we find out that the NSA recently bought all rights to "1984"

    Cunning bastards are running a false flag operation to jack up their return on investment!!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Next we find out that the NSA recently bought all rights to "1984"

      "Cunning bastards are running a false flag operation to jack up their return on investment!!"

      Posted like a true "Marketing Hack."

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Next we find out that the NSA recently bought all rights to "1984"

        Hey, it takes real work to be this cynical about the powers that be!!

  19. C 18

    Applause for Clapper

    Who, in the provided link, also used this superbly ironic malapropism...

    "For me, it is literally-- not figuratively, literally gut-wrenching to see this happen..."

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: Applause for Clapper

      "Who, in the provided link, also used this superbly ironic malapropism...

      "For me, it is literally-- not figuratively, literally gut-wrenching to see this happen...""

      Arrrgh, I hate it when people use 'literally' as a form of exaggeration. I remember hearing a while back someone saying "When I heard the news, I was so excited, I literally jumped 10 foot in the air"

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone — to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink — greetings!

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