Saturday, January 25, 2014

Big Brother Is...

In The Circle, David Eggers's imagined society in the not so distant future, it's not that Big Brother is watching. Instead, everyone is watching each other. The Circle is a fictional Silicon Valley corporation which has absorbed earlier social media outlets like Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook into the all encompassing TruYou. It sounds so appealing – one password, one identity, one account which connects you to everything and everyone.

Mae Holland joins The Circle as a starry-eyed enthusiast of this new vision, and is thrilled by her job. The 'campus' is luxurious, with fountains, playing fields, artwork, themed buildings, gourmet restaurants, even dormitories for those wanting to avoid commuting home. And if her job Customer Experience at first seems menial, she is buoyed by the constant encouragement she receives as she works to keep her satisfaction rating above 98%. In fact, much of her life begins to revolve around numbers and ratings. The more she 'likes', the more she 'zings' (the tweet replacement), the more she joins groups, signs petitions, answers surveys, the higher her ratings climb. In this utopian atmosphere transparency is the new normal and company mottoes like “Privacy is Theft” and “Sharing is Caring” encourage the notion that if everyone knows everything then social ills will be eliminated.

Is this so hard to imagine, with so many people today willingly giving up their privacy to social networks? Eggers certainly pushes the envelope, but he raises interesting questions about how persuasive our own version of Big Brother can seem.

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