Would you sacrifice your privacy for safety?
I just finished reading this interesting book called “The Circle” by Dave Eggers where the book tries to answer a fundamental and difficult question. Mae Holland, the main character, gets the dream job of joining the greatest, biggest tech company in the world called The Circle. When we follow Mae’s character through her time at The Circle we are rooting for her success. The company sounds like the best place to work with anything you want at your fingertips. Parties everyday after work, free healthy food with a different chef every day, and even free rooms on campus to check out if you decide to stay late and don’t want to go home. The Circle is meant to be a place we all want to work for and Dave does a fantastic job of making the reader want to work there. But by the end of the story, you are rooting Mae’s demise and the demise of this awful company. The book is meant to be satire about how technology and documenting everything online can go very VERY wrong. I’ve spent time thinking and concluded that the book is centered around one, simple question…“Would you sacrifice your privacy for safety?”. Mae Holland and The Circle thought that transparency in EVERYTHING is a necessity. That privacy is theft and sharing is caring because all must be known. What do we, as human beings, have to hide? To the people at The Circle, we must be tracked and held accountable for all our actions. It’s the thought that we will be our best selves if our secrets were out in the open for everyone to see and transparency is the key to salvation! But is transparency really the key to salvation? Sure if something bad happens, we would know about it. Theft, domestic violence, and anything we deem bad could virtually disappear. But by being transparent in everything you do; it’s is essentially like selling your soul to a company to watch. In the book, The Circle created a product where a super small, high definition camera can be placed anywhere and be practically invisible. The camera is always on and broadcasting what it sees to the cloud where the images are constantly being analyzed for data. Think street cameras placed everywhere and at the size of marble. By the end of the book the cameras are placed everywhere and the entire world is being seen and uploaded to the cloud. Mae gets swept up by the whole idea that The Circle and the cameras are making the world a better, safer place. But I’m with her ex in the book who thinks that having your life broadcasted and analyzed is the worst idea ever. Destroying our privacy creates a totalitarian world where a single ideology of being transparent regulates us from who we are. Or more importantly — being human. It’s scary to think that a single company or organization OWNS an actual human being and that’s what literally happens to Mae. She becomes almost like a slave at the end to The Circle were tells her what she can and cannot do. Hell, she even drops her apartment to live full time at The Circle. It’s as if The Circle (again, a technology company) becomes the brain of Mae. The book is meant to be alternate reality imaging what would happen if technology was in control of our lives. Where we have a single, virtual “being” controlling our destiny about what is ok and not ok. It’s very similar to a hive mind or groupthink concept where a group has a desire for harmony or conformity and individualism is not something that is ok. This is achieved by having us broadcast ourselves to a computer that is analysing every move we make.
What’s probably the scariest part of the book and why it’s become a huge hit is that this could ACTUALLY HAPPEN. Tech companies want you to text and tweet and use everything they have so that they can analyze it and then sell the information. Facebook is pushing heavily to live stream your whereabouts online. Same goes for the stories concept with snapchat and Instagram. Google scans everything that comes into your gmail account plus analyzing anything you do on the Chrome browser. If you have google keyboard on your iPhone then they analyze everything that you type into a texting conversation. Uber’s app has the default setting of “Always tracking your location” and Amazon’s Alexa is always listening to your conversation waiting to be called. Tech companies know us better than our own selves because we give them the information and the question that comes to mind is…“Is that ok?”. This is all for safety right?