The Circle: Mass Survelliance and the Slippery Slope

The Circle, by Dave Eggers

Alfred A. Knopf, NY NY 2013

This was easily one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read.  There were no monsters, and no really bad people.  Just idealists, driven to make the world a better place…through total and complete transparency.  The protagonist, Mae Holland, is a good person who gets hired by the Circle, which is kind of the worst parts of Google and Facebook combined.  Slowly but surely she gets drawn into the overall goals of the company, rarely questioning – and squashing doubts when she does – to make every bit of information known to every single person on the planet at will.  No secrets, from anyone, ever, anywhere.  No matter who it hurts, because it’s all in the name of the greater good.

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The scary part about this book is this:  It could be done.  From the miniaturized cameras to the bio-monitors to the always-on social networks, we already have most of the technologies.  Now, granted, the main character is not really that realistic – I mean, everyone is going to have second thoughts – but the key point of the book is that she does what she does because she believes it is for the better.  The need to constantly be watching your social rank – that’s not to far off people constantly looking for likes (it’s been shown that we get a hit of endorphins when we get a comment or a like) on their posts on Facebook and Instagram.  And we can find out quite a bit of information on most people via Google – I’ve surprised interviewers by knowing more about them than they do about me.

 

It progresses one step at a time until all individual privacy is gone, and the worst part is, by the time it happens, by the time the line is crossed, it seems so…normal, so inevitable.  This book, to me, is a warning.  The panopticon could happen, is slowly coming, and rather than trying to stop it, we are eagerly accepting its technologies – Facebook, for always-on feedback; Instagram, for showing what we’re doing and eating all the time; drones – that can film us anywhere; and things like the Fitbit, that record our health state 24 hours 7 days a week.

Is privacy going to disappear?  Are we willingly going to give it up?  Maybe not now, but ten years from now – I”d say it’s a good possibility.

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