The Circle Terrifies Me – Book Review

The Circle Terrifies Me – Book Review

Recently I read a book by author, David Eggers called The Circle. It is about a woman, Mae Holland joining a massive technology company that basically has combined Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and so on into one monopoly company known as The Circle. The story is about how Mae becomes a more important member at The Circle. This comes at the expense of her relationships and her own privacy. It demonstrates how The Circle becomes more and more powerful.

Now this book is a satirical novel, but the truth is that I felt an incredible amount of negative feelings whilst reading this book. Not towards the book itself, which I thought was well written and an excellent read, but towards the characters and company portrayed within its pages.

I felt anger, hate and most of all, fear. Almost from the very beginning, I disliked many of the characters portrayed in the novel and even ended up hating a few such as the main characters, Mae Holland. There is only one character I liked known as Kalden and when I speak about hate, dislike and like, I mean on a personal level as if I actually knew these people. I despise sycophants and the majority of the people in this novel are sycophants of the highest order.

The employees at The Circle throw themselves at the feet of The Three Wise Men who run the company who appear to be able to do no wrong. They demand the social interaction of everyone at The Circle. When Mae misses social events, usually by accident, the other Circlers take it as a personal slight in a way that would have received a “fucking get over yourself” from me in reality.

But that isn’t what makes me terrified when I read this book. No that simply annoyed me. No, what terrified me, was the power and the tools The Circle collected throughout the novel.

 

The power of The Circle

In the novel, The Circle came into being when one of the three wise men, Ty Gospodinov created a single online identity system known as TrueYou (tech-edgy way of not spelling things correctly), which combined everyone’s online identities such as social media profiles, multiples payment systems and various passwords for different websites, into one, streamlined system. Now this idea I like. Truly, it would save everyone so much hassle and would make everything easier. This is one of the only good things The Circle creates throughout the novel.

SeeChange

Near the beginning of the novel, one of the Three Wise Men, Eamon Bailey introduces what are known as SeeChange cameras. These cameras are very small and can be placed anywhere. Bailey sells this product as a way to see what is happening everywhere in the public realm including keeping an eye of natural conditions for example surfing or even keeping watch on revolutions and police violence because everyone in the World would be able to see it through SeeChange. Again, this idea starts out great, because lets be honest, most of us are caught on CCTV cameras on average like 300 times a day.

It is what happens next that terrifies me and The Circle calls it going ‘transparent’. This is where individuals choose to reveal everything in their lives by wearing a SeeChange camera and recording everything for viewers to see. Mae does this and becomes the face of the whole idea. It also becomes part of her parent’s lives as they are forced to install the cameras in their house when they are put on The Circle’s health plan for her father’s MS. Now you may say it is their choice to wear those cameras and you would be correct. Mae has the choice to video her own life, but she does not have the right to video other people’s lives and through this program, no one else has that right.

Privacy for the weak, transparency for the strong

In fact, when politicians choose to go ‘transparent’ or as they call it ‘clarification’ in order to improve trust in government, the public opinion soon turns to demanding that everyone goes ‘transparent’. The prevailing opinion would be that everyone and everything should be filmed because everyone has the right to know. After all, the tagline for the ‘transparency’ program are: SECRETS ARE LIES. PRIVACY IS THEFT. SHARING IS CARING. Just think about those statements for a second. Privacy is theft states that anything you do as an individual in private is you stealing from others because they have the right to know what you are doing.

Sam Seaborn, deputy communications director to President Bartlett in the TV show, The West Wing said that privacy will be one of the biggest fights for the next two decades and that was back in 1999/2000. With these huge leaps in technology and the rise of social media since then, the fight for privacy is going to be hard fought. The Circle demonstrates how easy it could be for us to give up on our privacy because we love the fact we can invade other people’s privacy for our own entertainment.

 

 

Never let them undermine your rights

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said: “It is becoming increasingly different to stay private in the digital age. It’s not just because it’s much easier to publicly share information but also because the devices we use – whether phones, laptops or household items – generate data that reveals so much about who we are, the places we go to and the things we like.

“Both corporations and governments are interested in getting hold of this information for different reasons and it’s easy to feel that fighting for our personal privacy is a losing battle.

“However, there is a revived interest in what it means to have privacy, which is reflected in the growth of privacy-enhancing technologies, such as encryption or VPNs. Organisations like Open Rights Group are also challenging laws and policies that undermine our rights.

“It’s important to separate our individual right to privacy from holding governments to account. As ORG founder and author Cory Doctorow has put it, we need Privacy for the weak, transparency for the strong.”

TruYouth

Speaking of privacy and having the right to know, a Circler, known as Francis (one of the love interests of Mae) develops technology that allows tracking chips to be planted in the bones of children to ensure their parents and the police know where they are at all times. This is sold as a precaution to ensure violent crimes against children such as kidnapping are prevented. Now, that does sound like a great sell doesn’t it? Who would object to a peace of technology that could protect and save children from violent crime?

Well, me. In my second year at university, someone on my course wrote the start of the story based on the idea of children having chips inside him or her for the same purpose. When I read their work, I felt the exact same feeling of dread as I did when I read it in this novel. The reason I would oppose this kind of technology is that it would never be removed. When a child turns 16/18/21 and becomes an adult, that chip will remain inside them, meaning that the police, the government, the state would know exactly where everyone is at all times. Again, that may not sound like a bad thing… why does it matter if the government knows where we are at all times?

I dislike anything that gives the government more power over me when it does not necessarily need it and with this technology, it most certainly does not need it.

 

 

PastPerfect

The Circle continues its mission of discovering all knowledge with its program know as PastPerfect. This technology allows people to search back through all photos and information recorded at any point on their ancestors. Everything is made public so anyone can see and search for information on anyone’s ancestors.

And as always with The Circle’s technology, it sounds like a great idea. But as the old saying goes: “Those who control the past, control the future”. The Circle, through this technology controls the past. If they so wished they could manipulate it to discredit their opponents and endorse their allies. To know your family history is one thing. For the rest of the world to know your family’s history is very different and for a single company to own your history and the history of your ancestors is truly terrifying because you have no control over what others can do with your life.

Demoxie

The introduction of demoxie is the novel is the moment I became truly terrified by the scenario in the novel. It is a major point in the novel with regards to the concept of “completing the Circe”. That means that the Circle has the power to encompass everything. Demoxie is a program that allows people to vote on issue electronically through their Circle account. In fact, the Circle engineers, program the system so it is mandatory to vote.

If you refuse to vote, you cannot use your Circle’s TruYou account. There is discussion within the company that it should be mandatory for everyone to have a TruYou account. Think about that for a moment. When it is mandatory to sign up to a private company to vote that private company has become too powerful.

Now the idea of Demoxie is that the world could move from a representative democracy to a form of direct democracy. This would be done through The Circle and the Demoxie program. It would remove all the apparent corrupt politicians and lobbyists the public want to hate. That, in essence, means that every person will be able to vote on an issue no matter their level of intelligence, experience and knowledge of a subject. It means the end of expertise in politics. It means the rule of the mob without checks and balances. This means a weakening of democracy for a populist gain. It means the tyranny of the majority.

My vote is mine alone

However that still isn’t the scariest part of Demoxie for me. The scariest part is that voting is no longer private. After every vote, people can look up who voted for what through Demoxie. That is a catastrophic idea. It means that if you are not in the majority, then you are in the minority. And in systems where the majority always rules and minority is alone, the minority is usually victimised and oppressed. Even in democratic countries, this occurs in one form or another.

It allows those in power, so in this case, The Circle to see who votes for what. If you do not vote for what The Circle or those in power want, you paint a target on you. We hear of how those who question The Circle on a political level. They are found to have incriminating items on their computers and so on and are therefore disgraced. In reality, the Russians have a word for this called Kompromat. It is a tactic used by intelligence agencies and states to blackmail or incriminate their opponents into doing what they want or by simply destroying them.

Now if The Circle does that to its enemies before it has all this technology and power given to them through Demoxie, what will it do with it when it knows exactly who will vote for what?

The truth is…

Some say that the world created in David Eggers’ novel is novel is far-fetched and will never occur. To be fair, it is very likely to this sort of thing will never happen as quickly or as clear cut. But that doesn’t mean these things could be sneaked in and that is what terrifies me.

Like I said, putting chips in children to protect them from kidnapping, murder and rape is a brilliant idea. Every parent would want to get behind and as a society protecting our children is our first priority. Except when they become adults, the state can now track them wherever they may go.

Control the past to control the future

Knowing about your past and your family’s past is again a great idea. You can learn about your heritage and what countries your family originates from. Plus the various cultures that affected them and so on. Until of course, everyone else knows and leaves you open to exposure. It is implied in the novel that no one cares about a person’s family or their past. But in many instances in reality that just isn’t true. Those who control the past control the future and those who control your past will control your future.

The idea of SeeChange cameras are great when wishing to record and report injustices. That is why we have CCTV cameras. The technology demonstrated in the novel would be excellent if properly regulated to ensure it was not open to abuses. Plus everyone has access to these images allowing others to spy on their chosen person. The next step as shown in the novel is that it is introduced into people’s homes. People are forced to wear a camera at all times, except for sleeping.

Privacy is key to democracy

This means that the right to privacy is truly dead. That is the moment we as people become completely cerebral creatures. This is the moment when what we truly think simply remains inside our own minds. Nothing new or original or different or controversial will be spoken or done because the fear of the oppressive majority that watches your every move through your SeeChange camera will put an end to that.

Edward Snowden said: “I don’t see myself as a hero because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity”.

A true democracy is not about how many people agree with one thing or another thing. It isn’t about the rule of the majority. It is the rule of the people and that means everyone in some way or another. This means that everyone should have the right to privacy. A right to choose. The right to vote and the right not to vote. The right to have private opinions and open opinions. And to vote on their opinions in the comfort of secrecy. Democracy is more than just about the vote. Democracy is a state of mind. It is about freedom and equality to opportunity and choic. Everything introduced in this novel and where it leads to does terrify me.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest