is a novel which tries to encapsulate life inside of a fictional company that is a mixture of Facebook and Google called The Circle. It is very much a novel for the current generation.
The book was recently adapted for film. I am not sure though whether it captures Eggers’ nuances associated with character.
Instead, he put all of it, all of every user’s needs and tools, into one pot and invented TruYou—one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person. There were no more passwords, no multiple identities. Your devices knew who you were, and your one identity—the TruYou, unbendable and unmaskable—was the person paying, signing up, responding, viewing and reviewing, seeing and being seen. You had to use your real name, and this was tied to your credit cards, your bank, and thus paying for anything was simple. One button for the rest of your life online. To use any of the Circle’s tools, and they were the best tools, the most dominant and ubiquitous and free, you had to do so as yourself, as your actual self, as your TruYou. The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do. TruYou changed the internet, in toto, within a year. Though some sites were resistant at first, and free-internet advocates shouted about the right to be anonymous online, the TruYou wave was tidal and crushed all meaningful opposition. It started with the commerce sites. Why would any non-porn site want anonymous users when they could know exactly who had come through the door? Overnight, all comment boards became civil, all posters held accountable. The trolls, who had more or less overtaken the internet, were driven back into the darkness.
Production on the cameras, which were as yet unavailable to consumers, went into overdrive. The manufacturing plant, in China’s Guangdong province, added shifts and began construction on a second factory to quadruple their capacity. Every time a camera was installed and a new leader had gone transparent, there was another announcement from Stenton, another celebration, and the viewership grew. By the end of the fifth week, there were 16,188 elected officials, from Lincoln to Lahore, who had gone completely clear, and the waiting list was growing. The pressure on those who hadn’t gone transparent went from polite to oppressive. The question, from pundits and constituents, was obvious and loud: If you aren’t transparent, what are you hiding? Though some citizens and commentators objected on grounds of privacy, asserting that government, at virtually every level, had always needed to do some things in private for the sake of security and efficiency, the momentum crushed all such arguments and the progression continued. If you weren’t operating in the light of day, what were you doing in the shadows? And there was a wonderful thing that tended to happen, something that felt like poetic justice: every time someone started shouting about the supposed monopoly of the Circle, or the Circle’s unfair monetization of the personal data of its users, or some other paranoid and demonstrably false claim, soon enough it was revealed that that person was a criminal or deviant of the highest order. One was connected to a terror network in Iran. One was a buyer of child porn. Every time, it seemed, they would end up on the news, footage of investigators leaving their homes with computers, on which any number of unspeakable searches had been executed and where reams of illegal and inappropriate materials were stored. And it made sense. Who but a fringe character would try to impede the unimpeachable improvement of the world? Within weeks, the non-transparent officeholders were treated like pariahs. The clear ones wouldn’t meet with them if they wouldn’t go on camera, and thus these leaders were left out. Their constituents wondered what they were hiding, and their electoral doom was all but assured. In any coming election cycle, few would dare to run without declaring their transparency—and, it was assumed, this would immediately and permanently improve the quality of candidates. There would never again be a politician without immediate and thorough accountability, because their words and actions would be known and recorded and beyond debate. There would be no more back rooms, no more murky deal-making. There would be only clarity, only light.
Would you have behaved differently if you’d known about the SeeChange cameras at the marina?” “Yes.” Bailey nodded empathetically. “Okay. How?” “I wouldn’t have done what I did.” “And why not?” “Because I would have been caught.” Bailey tilted his head. “Is that all?” “Well, I wouldn’t want anyone seeing me do that. It wasn’t right. It’s embarrassing.” He put his cup on the table next to him and rested his hands on his lap, his palms in a gentle embrace. “So in general, would you say you behave differently when you know you’re being watched?” “Sure. Of course.”
SECRETS ARE LIES SHARING IS CARING PRIVACY IS THEFT
“That’s the idea,” Jackie said. “Just as within the Circle we know our Participation Rank, for example, soon we’ll be able to know at any given moment where our sons or daughters stand against the rest of American students, and then against the world’s students.” “That sounds very helpful,” Mae said. “And would eliminate a lot of the doubt and stress out there.” “Well, think of what this would do for a parent’s understanding of their child’s chances for college admission. There are about twelve thousand spots for Ivy League freshmen every year. If your child is in the top twelve thousand nationally, then you can imagine they’d have a good chance at one of those spots.” “And it’ll be updated how often?” “Oh, daily. Once we get full participation from all schools and districts, we’ll be able to keep daily rankings, with every test, every pop quiz incorporated instantly. And of course these can be broken up between public and private, regional, and the rankings can be merged, weighted, and analyzed to see trends among various other factors—socioeconomic, race, ethnicity, everything.”
“And as you all know,” he said, turning to Mae, speaking to her watchers, “we here at the Circle have been talking about Completion a lot, and though even us Circlers don’t know yet just what Completion means, I have a feeling it’s something like this. Connecting services and programs that are just inches apart. We track kids for safety, we track kids for educational data. Now we’re just connecting these two threads, and when we do, we can finally know the whole child. It’s simple, and, dare I say, it’s complete.”
“For this experiment, Mae, and the Circle as a whole, to work, it has to be absolute. It has to be pure and complete. And I know this episode will be painful for a few days, but trust me, very soon nothing like this will be the least bit interesting to anyone. When everything is known, everything acceptable will be accepted. So for the time being, we need to be strong. You need to be a role model here. You need to stay the course.”
“You’re completely overthinking it. No one, I mean no one, will look at you funny because some ancient ancestor of yours had slaves from Ireland. I mean, it’s so insane, and so distant, that no one will possibly connect you to it. You know how people are. No one can remember anything like that anyway. And to hold you responsible? No chance.”
By the time you read this, I’ll be off the grid, and I expect that others will join me. In fact, I know others will join me. We’ll be living underground, and in the desert, in the woods. We’ll be like refugees, or hermits, some unfortunate but necessary combination of the two. Because this is what we are.
“The Rights of Humans in a Digital Age.” Mae scanned it, catching passages: “We must all have the right to anonymity.” “Not every human activity can be measured.” “The ceaseless pursuit of data to quantify the value of any endeavor is catastrophic to true understanding.” “The barrier between public and private must remain unbreachable.” At the end she found one line, written in red ink: “We must all have the right to disappear.”