Why Dave Eggers' 'The Circle' Couldn't be More Relevant

Google, Fitbit, Electronic Voting Systems, and the Circle by Dave Eggers

Posted by Ryan Heavican on November 23, 2016

Non-fiction is typically too laborious for me to drudge through while traveling. Somehow works like “Nmap 6: Network Exploration and Security Auditing Cookbook” and “VMware vSphere 5.5 Cookbook” just aren’t that appealing when stuck on an airplane for a few hours without Internet access.

Thus I typically find myself reading technology centered fiction by authors like Neal Stephenson and, most recently by Dave Eggers. Eggers’ book “The Circle” was a very easy read, packed with themes that couldn’t be any more relevant at this point in time.

Eggers’ book revolves around a fictional progressive technology company called the Circle, whose three founders are perceived as gods by its employees, who are known as Circlers. The Circle seeks to connect the entire world and to make undertakings like voting, enforcing criminal laws, purchasing products, maintaining personal health, safety more convenient through use of technology. The Circle gleans as much personal data to meet these ends and to, allegedly, drive human progress. Sound familiar?

The ultimate goal of the company is to “complete the Circle” by using technology to track users from birth to death under the auspices of security, increased health via health monitoring, greater interconnectedness, and greater shared knowledge. The company is beloved by both its employees and the public at large, as the company is perceived to be bettering all humankind.

Although the books’ main character isn’t developed enough, overall I found the book to be a great read that couldn’t be more relevant as companies like Google and Facebook control more and more of the world’s information and enact totalitarian polices as to how that data will be controlled.

I found to be incredibly personally relevant. I’ve pretty blindly placed my trust in Google for years and years. I use the Chrome browser, I’ve used Chromebooks, I use Chromecast, I use Android, I use Gmail, I typically write my blog posts on Google docs, and I rely on Google search, to a pretty outrageous degree, to continually obtain a vast amount of information, which Google wholly controls.

Receiving alerts about upcoming flights on my Android, simply because someone sent the itinerary to my Gmail account or receiving pop-up notifications on my Android Google Nexus based off current location is convenient, but absolutely horrendous from a privacy standpoint. Google likely knows me more intimately than most humans with whom I’m close. And now I’m allowing other companies like Fitbit to glean an enormous amount of personal health and location data because I’ve become accustomed to the convenience of tracking my exercise habits.

I found the book to be even more relevant given the events of our recent presidential election. This election was subject to a targeted campaign that stole confidential, personal data, influenced the election and possibly directly manipulated votes via technological means. This intimately correlates with Eggers’ story, particularly as the Circle sought to control democracy by making voting mandatory and by requiring all voting to be conducted through its products.

I strongly encourage everyone to read “The Circle”, or to at least watch the upcoming film that is based off Eggers’ book. As a zealous advocate of technology and the Internet, I often find myself neglecting privacy concerns I unquestionably am more privacy conscious because of this book and will likely adjust my online behavior and relationship with technology and companies like Google, Facebook and Fitbit.