This past week I read Dave Eggers' "The Circle." This book is about a large young technology corporation named "The Circle" that rapidly buys up the likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. and unites and unifies all of them. The story follows a young woman as she is hired for a low-level position and quickly becomes the company's ambassador. The core ideas of the book are echoed in the Circles three slogans —
"Secrets are Lies"
"Sharing is Caring"
"Privacy is Theft"
Many of he ideas outlined in the book sound like good ideas on their surface. It's not good to keep secrets — it's almost like your lying to people. It's good to share things — it shows you care. Keeping things from people can be a little like theft. In the begin of the book these ideas are looked through soft lenses in this way. However, by the end of the book it is clear that extrapolating these ideas out to their logical end could easily create a world where privacy is a crime, intense participation in social media is mandatory and sharing literally everything is compulsory.
As with most books of this nature, one of the things that makes it a good, scary read is that it would only take a slight nudge to start our own reality rapidly down a similar path. As I read it I was reminded of Orwell's 1984 and other, similar books about dystopian near futures. This book seems to illustrate how we could rapidly find our selves in such a future. The book begins in a setting very close to where we are at right now and over the course of mere months spirals into dystopian madness. It is written in such a way that as a reader I was unsure of the authors opinion about social media, privacy and other core concepts through much of the book. Good stuff.
In the world of the "Circle," it's offensive to not post your status, share what you are doing, rate, review, offer "smiles" or "frowns" on everything and every one via social media. So, I found it... well... interesting that as I finished reading "The Circle" on my iPad, a screen popped up asking if I wouldn't review/rate the book and share my completion and rating of it on Facebook and Twitter. That was on Tuesday — so it has taken me a few days to realize that I was not being very caring by not sharing. In fact I was pretty much stealing from ya'll by not posting these comments earlier. Sorry!
I would be remiss if I didn't add a note here suggesting that if this book of fiction sounds good to you that you take a look at Jaron Lanier's manifesto "You Are Not a Gadget." Yes, it reads a bit like the rambling mutterings of a neo-luddite, techno-guru madman. That is partly why it is so beautiful. As a techno-insider, Lanier offers provocative observations, opinions and suggestions addressing sharing, privacy and the state and trajectory of our digital culture.