Is “Silicon Valley” Saving Us?
Dave Eggers’ The Circle is about 24-year-old Mae Holland who starts to work at a powerful technology ran by three “Wise Men.” The three “Wise Men” are made up of CEO Tom Stenton, Eamon Bailey, and Ty Gospondinov. Mae owes her job at The Circle to her college roommate and best friend Annie who is apart of the company’s elite “Gang of 40.” The Circle develops a range of sophisticated technologies. Mae starts off as a CE at the firm but quickly climbs her way to the top. In her first day in the Customer Experience department, customers grade her 97 on a scale of 1 to 100, which is a record for a newbie. At the Circle, they have many amenities open to their workers like a lot of Silicon Valley companies have. The company offers dorm-like housing, gyms, laundry service, recreational activities and parties. After her first day at the Circle, her day ends with a party. At the party, Mae meets Francis who has created ChildTrack, a chip that is implanted in your children to track their location. His device has so far been approved in Las Vegas and soon to be all over.
Mae decides to skip a party to go home and visit her parents on a Saturday night, it was Mae’s first Saturday at the Circle. During that time, we find out that Mae’s father is suffering from multiple sclerosis and also about Mae’s ex boyfriend Mercer who still lives in the town she grows up. When Mae’s father has a seizure, they called Mercer to help him get to the car and to the hospital without having to call the EMTs. During that time, Mercer tells Mae that he believes that the Circle in a way, is too “high tech.” That the tools they create are “actually manufactures unnaturally extreme social needs.” In a way, Mercer is a “main theme” in the book asking, is all that the Circle is creating, no good?
Mae meets a mysterious man named Kalden who is interested in seeing what Mae does at the Circle. Within minutes, he disappeared. The Circle offers a system where you can look up everyone in the company, when Mae looked up Kalden, there was no trace of his status at the company or even a last name. Mae becomes romantically involved with him.
When Mae goes to the Circle’s “doctor’s office” where she meets Dr. Villalobos. The Circle wants to make sure all their staff is healthy mentally and physically. Like most companies, the Circle offers health care, but with their own doctors on site. They also offer a health tracking bracelet. In order for the bracelet to work, they give a smoothie with a metal chip inside for you to drink. The tracking device collects data on heart rate, blood pressure, heat flux, caloric intake, cholesterol, digestive efficiency, sleep quality along with a bunch of other things. Another sophisticated technology device Mae is included to is SeeChange. SeeChange is a light, portable camera that can provide real-time video. During the book, politicians start to wear them as they wish to be ‘transparent’, allowing the public to see what they see at all times. Once Mae enrolls her parents onto her health care, they decide to install SeeChange cameras in their home. After legal issues of her own, Mae agrees to wear a SeeChange herself, making herself transparent. Becoming transparent made Mae feel like she was being a perfect example of her growing role in the company. She becomes involved in a public talk in which she says “Secrets are lies; sharing is caring; privacy is theft” which contradicts the company.
Kalden reappears and calls Mae telling her that The Circle must be stopped, but she refuses to listen. Kalden turns out to be ‘Wise Man’ Ty Gospodinov, the original inventor and founder of the company.
When Mae’s footage of her home life is accessible to her millions of followers, she becomes upset that the company has embarrassed her. While demonstrating a program that is used to catch fugitives quickly, she uses it to find Mercer. He attempts to make an escape to his truck and ends up driving off a bridge and being killed after drones prevent his escape from being watched by millions. That’s when Mae, with the help of ‘Wise Man’ Eamon Bailey, concluded that Mercer was extremely depressed, antisocial human that refused the help of society.
Throughout the book, Mae is introduced to many different technologies, some good some bad. Things like the medical bracelet, SeeChange and ChildTrack are good because they all can prevent things from happening, but bad because they are an invasion of privacy and can hurt someone in a way. The Circle, being based off Silicon Valley, which is the home of many high-tech companies brings up the question is technology helping us or hurting us?
In real life, Silicon Valley is the home to thousands of high technology companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel, Yahoo and many others. Silicon Valley is located in Santa Clara County and Bay Area cities such as Oakland, Newark, San Francisco, San Mateo, Scotts Valley and many others. The Circle being a Silicon Valley company, in a way, pretty much covers all that those companies do. Silicon Valley save the world like the Circle believes they can.
The Circle creates things such as a medical bracelet, ChildTrack and SeeChange. With the creations, they feel like they can change the world. Every creation represents something that has already been made, but more in depth. With each creation being able to help us, and currently not doing any harm, The Circle shows that if they do become so elaborate, they could hurt people.
“Employers and insurance companies may require you to wear health-tracking devices.” The Circle started to have their employees wear medical bracelets as an easier way to track their temperature, heart rate, BMI and other things. When Mae goes to the health center and gets her bracelet, she has to also drink a smoothie with a piece of metal in it that connects to the bracelet to collect information better. If not feeling too well, they’ll let them know so they can go to the doctors. “Because Circlers are generally young and healthy, our costs are a fraction of those at a similar-sized company” said by Dr. Villalobos, the Circle’s doctor.
The bracelet in a sense is like what real life Silicon Valley company, Apple created. On the 2014 Apple software release of iOS 8, we were introduced to HealthKit. The application allows users to track their steps, weight, heart rate and also has a medical ID section which you can gain access to if a phone is locked and there is a medical emergency. The app also offers a way to track inhaler usage, sexual activity and BAC.
In 2002, there was an article about high-tech gadgets promoting children’s safety. The ideas about the gadgets are very similar to Francis’ idea of ChildTtrack, a chip that is implanted in your child so you can track their moves. Irv Gelbart, the president of Fort Lauderdale company, Pentagon Defense Products says “it’s a sad commentary that we have to go these extremes to protect kids.” The company sells a product called ChildSafe, a $12 alarm that sends out a piercing 95 decibels, the same as a smoke detector All the kid has to do is wear it around their neck or on his belt and activate it by simply pushing a button. All these ideas about child tracking devices were out 11 years before The Circlewas written. Why is children’s safety and the worry of having your child still a issue 11 years later? Why does the Circle believe that by inserting these chips into every child? This 11-year-old, possibly 45-year-old issue, can it finally be solved?
Apple released in October of 2011 Find My Friends as a downloadable app free of charge. Find My Friends allows iPhone users to track people’s moves as long as they agree to share with you. You have the option of turning it on and off at any time. Also, you can just send someone your current location and not have them follow you. Many parents started to use this as a tracking device to they can watch their every move and possibly without them knowing. You can set up where you get alerts when a user leaves or arrives to a certain location, making it easier for someone to track every move. Now the Find My Friend app is automatically downloaded onto all iPhones. Another system some parents may use for iPhones to track children’s moves is Find My iPhone. Though its made for missing Apple devices, you can send an alert to a phone where the person on the other end has to confirm it to turn the beeping noise off. It also tells you the last time a device was found active which is good incase a child does go missing an a phone is just left somewhere.
In the book, the company gets introduced to SeeChange. SeeChange is a light, portable camera that can provide real-time video with minimal efforts. In the past few years, cameras have been put into public places in real life where you can go online and see live footage of places. EarthCam.com is a website where you can see live footage of places like New York City’s Time Square, Jerusalem, Israel, Tokyo, Japan and even Myrtle Beach, SC.
The Circle’s SeeChange, which is a camera that can see any move. “Instead of searching the web, only to find some edited video with terrible quality now you go to SeeChange, you type in Myanmar. Or you type in your high school boyfriend’s name. Chances are there’s someone who’s set up a camera nearby, right? Why shouldn’t your curiosity about the world be rewarded? You want to see Fiji but can’t get there? SeeChange. You want to check your kid at school? SeeChange. This is ultimate transparency. No filter. See everything. Always.” said by Bailey in The Circle. (69) Is that an invasion of privacy? Is it considered illegal?
Many argue about surveillance cameras. Are they an invasion of privacy? Or are they helping us? Things like the Circle’s SeeChange could be good and useful. Once Mae adds her parents on her health care, they decide to install SeeChange cameras in their home because her father has multiple sclerosis. After a legal issue, Mae agrees to wear a SeeChange device herself, which the company calls going transparent. Being transparent means allowing the public to see what they are seeing at all times. But are the SeeChanges also harmful? When footage of Mae’s personal life with her family and her ex Mercer is publicly accessible to her millions of followers, she becomes upset that the Circle has embarrassed her. She uses a device that catches fugitives quickly and that’s when her ex Mercer escapes and while escaping, ends up driving off a bridge, killing himself. Proving that surveillance cameras like SeeChange, could ruin someone’s life and cause other people consequences.
“Some readers may argue for a simpler solution to this problem: Opt out of the technologies that could be made to spy on you. Don’t buy the Amazon Echo. Don’t put cameras in your house. Don’t use a thermostat that connects to the Internet and can monitor when you’re home and when you’re not.”
Why do we let Silicon Valley companies become such a big part of our lives? We check our health apps like HealthKit or the FitBits, we check up on our friends if we have them on Find Our Friends out of curiosity or we watch the news or click on some news post with some footage someone filmed of some live event. We have become so use to this technology and we don’t realize its hurting us. We have let it control us too much. Yes, some of it is good. But we depend on it too much.