Imagine a monolithic technology company. A Google/Facebook/Apple hybrid. And imagine that company decides to globally eliminate all secrets and privacy. Everyone’s every waking moment is broadcast in real time for the whole world to see. No matter how intimate. No matter how sensitive. Like Big Brother on steroids, only using contemporary or very-near-future technologies that Orwell’s worst nightmares couldn’t have even fathomed. Sounds horrific, right?
But imagine that this isn’t something the company is forcing on us against our will, but something that each of us is signing up for voluntarily. We are just willingly, and happily, handing over our privacy. This would have sounded like far-fetched dystopian insanity at other points even within my lifetime. But now it is a reality that waits just around the corner, if we’re not there already.
I watched the movie this weekend. I have the book on my shelf. Knowing my schizophrenic love/hate relationship with technology, especially internet technology, I should have known better than to add fuel to this particular fire. But sometimes I can’t help myself.
One of the most disturbing parts of the movie for me was not in the movie itself but in some of the special features afterwards. In one part particularly, Tom Hanks was talking about being involved in making the movie, and how intrigued and impressed they were with the book, but talking about how there was some urgency to get the film made “so it didn’t become an anachronism before it was released.” Something like that. The book was written as fiction, but it becomes less fictional all the time. There is no single “The Circle” company right now, but between Facebook and Google and Apple, and other less global but still information-accumulating companies like Garmin and FitBit, we are voluntarily turning over a whole lot of data. Where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re doing it with, how many steps it takes us to do it, and how we look doing it.
Not only that, but with the proliferation of smart phones, there are cameras literally everywhere, which doesn’t account for yet further cameras in place through government or private agencies. The cameras are getting smaller and smaller, yet also stronger and better. Virtually undetectable. Apply facial recognition technology and other computer-speed data analysis and tracking capabilities, we are never alone or unobserved.
In the movie, the main character, Mae (played by Emma Watson), volunteers to go “fully transparent.” Living her whole life on camera, 24/7 (with three minute bathroom breaks allowed). The company holds her out as a sort of hero, and millions of people love and follow her. It seems outrageous, and makes me feel claustrophobic Who would sign up for this? Um, in a post-Kardashian society, with the guarantee of fame and an opportunity to monetize it? A whole lot of people, I’d wager.
I’d already been feeling this way, but this movie made me want to delete all my social media accounts, throw my smart phone in a well, and flee to a generator-powered hermitage in the hills. I’m (probably) not going to (literally) do that. But what I am going to do is put my phone down even more, be on Facebook less (if at all), and I think I’m pretty much done with other social media altogether. It just leaves me feeling empty and unfulfilled.
I want to read more. I want to have more genuine interactions with people I actually know. And I’m planning on writing more. Here and elsewhere. Here, because here there is not necessarily any audience. But it’s good to be in the habit. Elsewhere because if I don’t publish something, and soon, I will never forgive myself. Also because I am an awesome writer. Just wait and see!