Friday, March 28, 2014

The Circle

I'm conflicted about The Circle.  It's not the most well written book I've read.  And the main character is annoying.  Perhaps appropriately, given she's very believeable as a self-involved, thinks she's helping by forcing others to participate in her definition of normal and progress via social media, assured of her own self-importance and great-things-are-due-me, idiot. And Eggers is heavy handed with his theme over his storytelling, leaning in favor of Orwellian quotes and a semi-one dimensional set of characters and sheep-like public, almost to the point of melodrama.  Then again, it's a dystopia, and I allow some leniency for effort in that category. A bit of hyperbole is generally the rule if you're trying to take an idea to its extreme.  And the idea that Google might take over the world bit bit, erase the concept of anonymity and push it to the extent where facial identification determines your presence in every bit of digitized media ever uploaded to the environment, is amusing.

Where it's creepy is where it aligns with my own big organization experiences.  Rankings on your social network participation.  And this statement, which aligns surprisingly with my own company's mission and commitment to acting like a cohesive enterprise: "we here at the Circle have been talking about Completion a lot, and though even us Circlers don't known yet just what Completion means, I have a feeling it's something like this.  Connecting services and programs that are just inches apart."

However, I'm not sure I believe in the short run any company is capable of forcing that sort of acceptance upon everyone.  And Tuesday I was at a two hour lecture about the other side of the coin.  Bitcoins for anonymity.  Semi-covert websites for anonymity of trading and avoiding the impact and monitoring of business and government.  And how to curate your personal information when it comes to giving away your fingerprints to Disney.  Your face to Microsoft and your XBox One.  And your license plate to some start up that wants to tie it to your Facebook account.  It was a great presentation.  The presenter showed us IR for the Kinect and how it tracks your pulse via your face.  How to make a trade for Bitcoin on the corner, live.  How to order fake gift cards, live.  And how to get arrested by the FBI if you try to hire a hitman.  It's obvious there's a real tension between what he called the little brothers - corporations trying to collect information about you.  Big brother - the government trying to collect info.  And swaths of society trying to stay out of those systems and off the radar.

Real people are much complex and ambivalent than in Eggers' book.  But he's right that critical mass can tip the balance.

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