Imagine if Google could provide all of your online needs – social media, communication, banking, entertainment, all in one place. No need for multiple passwords and user names, no need in fact to log in at all – your identity is linked indelibly with Google. Doesn’t that sound so much simpler and more convenient than what we have at the moment? Scale that up – think about global tracking to keep track of where your children are, or permanently-on video cameras keeping an eye on your house, your family, the things most previous to you. Sounds ideal, right?
This is the world of The Circle – a huge, benevolent organisation that pretty much runs the internet, with ambitions to provide safety and reassurance through technology to every person on the planet. This is fiction, but only just; we’re looking at the world as it could be very, very soon. And what’s wrong with that? Why wouldn’t we all want the best technology available to the most people? Well as the saying goes, every silver lining has a cloud – and this cloud is called control. There are plenty of concerns at the moment around the use of our personal data that’s collected through CCTV and online activity, but imagine if your every move was monitored by a video camera somewhere, and tracked by a single company. Imagine how much harder it would be to maintain privacy if every aspect of your life was observed, commented upon and critiqued.
These are the questions that Dave Eggers poses in The Circle, by embedding us in the very heart of the Circle itself. We see through the eyes of Mae Holland, young and ambitious, desperate to prove her worth (to herself, her friends, her colleagues…) and feel a part of a wider community. She’s a perfect fit to work at The Circle, and as she proves herself and moves up within the company we watch as she reveals more and more of the company’s plans. It’s fascinating to see how easy it is to get caught up in the surface benefits of so many apparently altruistic technologies and policies, without stopping to question what the wider implications might be. Watching objectively as Mae falls deeper under the sway of the Circle, we’re given the chance to stop and question, and reflect on the similarities with our own situation today.
Current, bitingly relevant and deeply thought-provoking, this is essential reading for anyone who engages in social media activity today. Read this and see just how bleak our future could be if we don’t start questioning things and looking a little deeper.