Recently I read “The Circle” by Dave Eggers and it’s one of those books that has stuck with me.
It’s a dystopian novel set in the not-so-far digitally transparent future.The book follows Mae Holland, who is thrilled at her luck in getting a job at The Circle. The Circle is essentially a tech company and social platform that combines Google, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal and meshes them with the world of physical, wearable technology. This fictional world is one where peoples’ online and offline lives merge together as one identity and sharing every detail of one’s life is the norm.
The mantras of “The Circlers” are:
- ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN
- PRIVACY IS THEFT
- SECRETS ARE LIES, and
- SHARING IS CARING.
It takes the idea of privacy in our ever-increasing digitally transparent world and brings all of the walls down. Politicians’ every word and move are captured on camera, leading the trend to go “clear” in mainstream society by wearing cameras to broadcast one’s life to an audience of strangers.
Mae is quickly sucked into this world, where the benefits to give up privacy start to outweigh the drawbacks, and we get a glimpse into what the world might look like if all of our personal data were held by a private company and available for the world to see.
I found The Circle fascinating as I have often talked with Mike about getting “microchipped” so that I’m never lost or abducted, or when the first cancerous cell strikes my body, my mobile phone alerts me and my doctors immediately. I’m always fascinated and intrigued by wearable technology and have considered on multiple occasions to get a Jawbone/FitBit or something of that sort. I have even looked into wearable cameras that take a photo every 30 seconds or wearable video cameras.
Because of my open attitude in terms of privacy (I blog under my real name, I have connected social accounts without a lot of privacy settings, I check in on FourSquare, Tweet and Instagram my food, etc) there were many times in the book where I loved the forward-thinking technology and thought about how much better our lives might be if we only had [fill in the blank here].
But there is a dark side to having those amazing technologies connected to our every move. I couldn’t stand the way that boundaries were never drawn and that being “always on” for cameras and an audience disconnected Mae from everyone in her real life. The extremes portrayed around this disconnection were a bit ridiculous, but served the point well that our online connections do not always enhance our lives or make us happier people – it’s the physical, “in real life” connections that do.
The book is written as a warning sign in many ways, illustrating that the connections that social media gives us are often meaningless or add unnecessary stress to our lives. If we’re always “performing” for an audience, does it mean that we are forced to be our better selves and be held accountable as human beings, or does it mean giving up our authentic selves? If we continue making superficial connections online, will we eventually lose the ability to make real connections in-person?
The Circle was certainly a thought-provoking book, though at times a little proselytizing when I just wanted to make up my own mind one way or another. I still believe I lean more in the direction of having more information at our fingertips than less, even if it means that I give up a little privacy. I suppose that I’m a prime candidate for the way of life in “The Circle,” though I do set boundaries and don’t always care to broadcast my personal life.
I absolutely recommend The Circle to those who work in social media or technology, or who just love it and live it the way that I do. It’s not a great work of literature, and the characters and relationships are shallow, but they are so to prove a point. Weeks after finishing the book, I still think back to passages and certain technologies, having internal debates with myself about the future of connected technology in our world.
What is your attitude toward privacy in this ever-increasing digitally transparent world?