Technology Over Democracy?

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

As I have mentioned in a couple of my previous blog posts, I recently read Dave Egger’s (2013) The Circle and it has really effected the way I interact with technology. The story takes place sometime in the (near?) future and revolves around a giant multi-media company called The Circle. The company has over 10,000 employees and prides itself on having a “campus” so perfect that none of the employees should ever have to leave. Rather than just being a place of work, The Circle becomes a place to live (they have on-site dorms), a place to eat (the commissary hosts a different famous chef every night), and even a place to play (there are sports leagues and clubs of every kind). As Mae, the main character describes, “It’s heaven” (1).

Courtest of busyteacher.wordpress.com

Courtesy of busyteacher.wordpress.com

At least, in the beginning it is. Mae soon realizes that her work and social are meant to be so completely intertwined at The Circle, that it becomes difficult to tell when she is working and when she is just having fun on social media. By the end of the novel, The Circle has instated the motto “Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is Theft” and has developed a program known as “Demoxie” that will essentially take over democracy by forcing everyone to participate in the voting and political process (303). In a weird turn of events (complete with a plot twist!) Mae is forced to examine the implications of this total takeover and must decide if technological advances are more important than ethics.

Clearly one of the biggest issues in this novel is whether or not a media company (or any corporation for that matter) has the right to force the democratic process on people. By requiring everyone to vote, and punishing those who don’t, democracy no longer becomes about freedom and choice. Coupled with the fact that the results are known immediately and shown to the public, private opinions give way to peer pressure and people may not be willing to voice their real opinions if they are in the minority.

That is a scary world to live in.

Despite all of the amazing technological advances and deeply rooted interconnectedness of virtually everyone on the planet, everyone is constantly being watched by hundreds (thousands?) of people at a time, including Big Brother. To make matters worse, anything that is inside The Circle’s network, which would be everything, can never be deleted. When we discussed this book in class, we talked about Foucault’s panopticon and how this idea affects behavior. If you were constantly being watched by thousands of people, would you really be acting normal or would you be on your best behavior? That is exactly what The Circle hoped to accomplish—everyone being on his or her best behavior.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The society depicted in The Circle is frightening, but what is even more frightening is how close ours may be to getting there. If nothing else, The Circle asks the question: Will we be able to recognize when advanced technology is going too far and will we be willing to do something about if it does?

My Life in Books

Post Preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

“Morris Lessmore loved words. He loved stories. He loved books.”

These are the opening lines from William Joyce’s children’s book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a tragically beautiful story about the eye opening and fulfilling life that books give us. While a book probably isn’t the first thing most people think of when someone says the word technology, they have definitely been the most influential piece of technology in my life.

While most people in my generation are becoming more and more dependent on digital technologies, in this ever-changing (and at times confusing) new world we live in, I find myself becoming more and more lost in the fictional, simple worlds created by books. Although I’m dependent on a technology that is considered somewhat out of date by today’s standards, I think my addiction is still a testament to how dependent our society has become on technology as a whole.

It is this question that I would like to address in my digital story. What is it about technology that makes it so engrossing? Or really, what is it about us that make us so dependent on technology? This dependency is bringing us dangerously close to the world of Dave Egger’s The Circle; where anything and everything we do must be documented through social media and our interactions are mediated through some kind of screen.

While the specifics of my project are not yet clear in my mind, my vision is to focus on the relationships we have with the various technologies available to us. Later in his book, Joyce says, “Sometimes Morris would become lost in a book and scarcely emerge for days.” I think this line, more than any other line in the book, defines the way we interact with the various technologies in our world, whether it be a cell phone, computer, or, in my case, a book.

Privacy, Personalization, and Predictions

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

As I reflect on my learning experience thus far in my Media, Culture, and Technology class, I am at the same time enlightened, riveted, and jarred by how integral technology has become in our society. From the predictions made by Asimov in the 1964 New York Times all the way to fictional futuristic societies of Spike Jonze’s Her and Dave Egger’s The Circle, the evolution of technology, and the media, is an interesting one.

At the end of his article, Asimov made the prediction that 2014 would bring about a “society of forced leisure” in which “the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” (Asimov). When this prediction is examined, particularly with regards to The Circle, it becomes a completely feasible future. Dave Eggers’s fictional novel about a media company’s eventual takeover of the entire democratic system (along with everything else) paints a picture of a society where everything is monitored and nothing is private. The company’s motto actually becomes: “Secrets are lies. Sharing is Caring. Privacy is theft” (Eggers, 303). The employees of The Circle are forced to constantly be in tune with the goings on of the company, including the social gatherings of the over 10,000 employees. By the end of the novel, six different screens take over the main character’s desk.

While many people today, including myself, consider social networking to be a leisure activity conducted in times of boredom or procrastination, Eggers suggest that a heavy dependence on social networking can potentially become a full-time job, plus overtime. This not only suggests that Asimov’s prediction may come true but also shows that this growing dependency on technology is taking over our lives, and in the process becoming very confusing. I’m often reminded of a scene in He’s Just Not That Into You (Ken Kwapis, 2009), where Drew Barrymore tries to make sense of it all. Courtesy of Youtube.

Our deep reliance on social media also raises very important questions about privacy. Before taking this class, I felt relatively comfortable with the information I was giving away on various social media sites. Name. Date of Birth. Email address. Maybe my physical address or phone number. But then I started thinking about the fact that almost all of my online profiles are linked together through Facebook or Amazon, which are in turn linked back to Google through my email address. The idea that hacking into one of my online profiles could potentially lead to the takeover of everything was a very scary thought.

What was worse, however, was the fact that I freely gave up this information. As Freedman says in a chapter in Misunderstanding the Internet: “Google and Facebook, with their ‘instant personalization’ facilities are vast storage containers of personal information that users ‘freely’ provide” (CFF, 82). I am not being forced to hand over any of this personal information—I am giving it to these companies on my own. While this seems harmless, and for the most part it is, this data that I am willingly providing is now giving marketers the exact information they need to adequately advertise to someone like me. Rather than the generic and one-size-fits-all ads we used to get on websites, now everything is traced back to your last Google search or Amazon purchase to create a “personalized” ad. Is privacy really the price we have to pay for personalization?

This semester is only halfway over, and I have already learned so much about how our culture and society interacts with technology. I have become more wary about sharing information online, I always crosscheck sources, and I’ve tried to limit the time I spend on social media and technology. Don’t get me wrong; technology is great. But if there is one thing this class has taught me, it’s that we are all at risk of falling in love with our operating systems while Google and Facebook quietly take over democracy right under our noses. Just kidding.

Maybe.