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).
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.
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?