The following recommendation may contain minor general spoilers about themes and ideas disclosed in The Circle by Dave Eggers, but only if you haven’t read the blurb on the paperback or actual real-world news about Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, YouTube, etc. supposedly spying on their users. With that said, here we go.
I really wanted to write that The Circle simmers in the back of your head, waiting, just waiting for you to have an epiphany six months later. But unfortunately it doesn’t. What it does is, it slaps you on the cheek yelling its message into your unsuspecting face, channeling the essence of 1984, with a dash of social media and a pinch of paranoia. Of course we sometimes need that, especially with a topic like this one.
5 Reasons to Read The Circle
The book plays with questions like
- … could the Circle/Google go bad? We’re not talking about nefarious plans to put satellites with death rays into orbit, or sequencing and disseminating smallpox via email, but rather a slow, comfortable descent into the warm blanket of surveillance and totalitarianism. A thousand small cuts to our privacy and freedom that all make sense at the time.
- … is privacy is a form of theft? The Circle puts forth the idea that privacy means withholding information from others (about yourself, other people, the world, knowledge); and keeping secrets is in essence a form of theft, akin to stealing something that rightfully belongs to the world. We have a right to know to everything about anything. Or do we?
- … is total transparency desirable? A question that probably cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. In politics, police work and other public sectors people that are entrusted with our representation, our safety, our health, and are watching over our society as a whole, should have transparency. They deal with public matters of public concern. I feel it is desirable to have as much clarity as possible, as that is the only way to ensure that these individuals indeed do as they are sworn to do. On the individual level, the question becomes more murky. Would e.g. total transparency have prevented the attacks in Paris and Brussels?
- … is total transparency a matter of choice? Suppose we have total transparency forced upon us, should the individual have a choice? Should they be able to opt-out? And if so, could they do so without penalty or the shadow of suspicion? Services like Facebook are opt-in and provide a service that requires voluntary transparency to a user-defined extent that is never complete or perfectly honest, as we are still the arbiters of our own feed. But if what if we weren’t?
- … is total transparency inevitable? There are movements in the real world (similar to ones mentioned in the book) that have us move towards more transparency, both on a mandatory governmental and a more voluntary private level. Is this movement inevitable? Will we lose our right to a private existence?
Albeit these questions are important and morally challenging, I found the book a bit simple and too straightforward. I remained unsurprised by how characters reacted, how Mae’s character arc played out; throughout the story the message (or warning) is obvious and heavy-handed. The book leans heavily on what-if scenarios and presents its case as a slippery slope fallacy. Criticism aside, I enjoyed the book and it will be getting a physical counterpart to my Kindle version at some point. Next to my SeeChange/SenseCam, as suggested in the book.
But what do you think? About the book, about Google/Circle, about transparency and the loss of privacy? Let me know!