I just finished Dave Eggers “The Circle”. This morning I listened to a story about how Google is changing their name—and how they have feelers into many aspects of our lives and our lives in the future. The new company name is supposedly “Alphabet”, a reference one commentator linked to Google’s desire to cover everything from A to Z.
Especially chilling, after having read “The Circle”.
“The Circle” does not require you to sift through hidden meanings—it is a bare-faced prediction of a future that is just around the corner. A future where a large, internet company will control every aspect of our lives, from large-scale issues, like politics, down to the micro aspects, the very way people spend each second of their days. After reading this book, words like “participation” and “transparency” take on new, ominous meanings. It is a world where a person can no longer choose what to share with the world and there is no space for solitude. It is a world where we are enslaved to an endless circle of hollow, time-sucking interactions—“smiles” and “frowns” in the book.
I had a little brush with this recently as the captains of the team I belong to on a commerce site sent out a memo to it’s members enforcing a mandatory commenting system. Since it is a team, I can understand the desire for more participation from its members—but mandatory commenting? How much time will be taken up with vapid comments, likes, etc, just so people can stay on the “team”?
In “The Circle”, the central character, Mae, is taken to task soon after she is hired by the large internet company, about how much time she should be spending, in the eyes of the company, on mandatory social circles. She ends up having to stay for hours after work, adding useless comments, smiling and frowning on other comments, and answering pushy emails from social climbers, to meet the expectations of the company.
Mae accepts this, and other worse things, throughout the book, justifying it all as inevitable and as “worth it” for the benefits she perceives she is receiving. When the end comes, it comes with an absolute surrender to the company ideals that is terrifying.
Metahistory.org talks about two dystopian, futuristic novels “1984” by George Orwell and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. The author points out how Orwell may have gotten it wrong with his vision of grey, shuffling, chained masses forced into compliance. Instead, he thinks, we may be traveling towards the “Brave New World” vision where the masses, in essence, demand their own shackles through mass addiction (soma, in Brave New World). In my opinion, “The Circle”, which points out our society’s addiction to social media, illustrates this concept beautifully.