The Circle or your right to privacy

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I am not easily impressed. Some people even call me demanding and judgmental. That’s why when I am saying that The Circle is a mind-blowing eye-opening and life-changing book, you’d now it’s for real 🙂 You have probably heard that the Circle it’s some modern version of Orwell’s 1984, anti-Facebook or anti-Google old people’ panicking b****t. So not true. I’d say it’s more like Atlas Shrugged.

Social media, transparency and easy access to information is the future, like it or not. And if you ask me, it’s generally a good thing. I can personally say that internet, blogging and social media made me a better version of myself. LinkedIn profiles of other people, their career stories set up a higher bar for me, they motivate and inspire, because you know what’s possible and how others made it. Facebook and Instagram at once made everyone a better photographer, a better cook and a more committed athlete. (I’m almost 100% serious here).

According to The Circle, the future of internet will be a “one button for the rest of your life online – …social media profiles, payment systems, various passwords, email accounts, user names, preferences, every last tool and manifestation of their interests… You had to use your real name, and this was tied to your credit cards, your bank”. The result of transparency?– a lot of internet hate disappeared, “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”.

A lot of crime, bribery, betrayal, lying, impulsive choices or bad judgment calls happen, when people believe that noone will ever find out. Transparency or being watched would force you behave better. Mae, the main character, decides to “go transparent”, which means she would wear a camera and agree to be followed online by millions of viewers around the world. You think, she’d freak out and get a nervous breakdown from all the pressure? Quite opposite – she makes healthier food choices, drinks less, exercises more, attends more social events instead of watching TV, she is more polite, she is nicer to other people, more considered, more creative and more productive. She is actually a happier and better version of herself, because she is being watched.

What if we all behaved as if we were being watched? – “It would lead to a more moral way of life. Who would do something unethical or immoral or illegal if they were being watched? If their illegal money transfer was being tracked? If their blackmailing phone call was being recorded? If their stick-up at the gas station was being filmed by a dozen cameras, and even their retinas identified during the robbery? If their philandering was being documented in a dozen ways?”

An interesting thought, not without its merit.

Mae works for a giant Internet company named Circle that absorbed Google, Facebook, PayPal, LinkedIn and Apple alltogether, and controls about 95% of the internet. Mae practically lives on campus, where anything a person might need is made possible: gyms, swimming pools, tennis courts, visiting artists, concerts, lectures, political conferences, cooking classes, even a minor surgery is done on campus. This is a perfect world of smart and passionate people who work hard, innovate, care about preserving our planet and fight for social justice, trying to make this world a better place.

Working hard at Circle also involves being active on social media – sharing your thoughts, posting pictures, commenting, liking or frowning (finally, please, make this button) at others:

“We actually see your profile, and the activity on it, as integral to your participation here. This is how your coworkers, even those on the other side of campus, know who you are. Communication is certainly not extracurricular, right? … being social, and being a presence on your profile and all related accounts—this is part of why you’re here. We consider your online presence to be integral to your work here. It’s all connected”.

One of Mae’s opponents is her ex-boyfriend – fat, angry, isolated and anti-social artesian, producing old-fashioned chandeliers. He hates social media, feels threatened by them and actually wants to escape to the woods, because he doesn’t want to be watched. According to him,

“the vast majority of this social media, all these reviews, all these comments … have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication… No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive. You know how you finish a bag of chips and you hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished”.

The book doesn’t explicitly say it, but I was personally left with an impression that this guy just doesn’t have what it takes, not good enough for this new world of connectivity, so he blames the rules, because he can’t follow them. Typical looser defense strategy.

Obviously, the Circle is not made of saints. They make money and want more power and they rigorously defend their business interests. Every time some politicians start talking about the monopoly of the Circle or how it might abuse its power “it is revealed that that person was a criminal or deviant of the highest order… connected to a terror network in Iran… a buyer of child porn”. Everyone has a past and some moments in life you definitely don’t want others to know about. The Circle argues for more and more transparency, because if everyone private lives are accessible, everyone could be exposed and destroyed, if needed.

The Circle encourages all politicians to go transparent and wear the cameras to work (which the majority of them agree). No more lobbyist, no more corruption, no more bribes. At the end of the day the Circle management suggests that its services should be mandatory and everyone must have a Circle account, because everyone must vote and the elections should be administered via Circle profiles.

The problem is to differentiate between public and private. Do you want to know if your president buys a child porn or has a mistress? Do you want to know if your new neighbor committed a crime and spent several years in prison? Do you want to be able to track your child’s location at all times to ensure her safety? Shall all school records be publicly available? What about the street or office security cameras? Does everyone really need a right to disappear and be forgotten?

I do see a tendency that more and more successful prominent people share their personal lives on social media. Same at work – you need people to know you privately to build and develop trust. We are not (yet?) Facebook friends with our colleagues, but we know more and more about each other’s kids, travel plans, hobbies and partners. The movement is there and gaining its strength. It not debatable – social media presence, staying connected and having your own digital ecosystem is a must, at least for everyone who is anyone. If you don’t have a digital footprint, you aren’t worthy and definitely not credible. You are probably hiding something. Or just lazy.

At the same time, the opposite trend takes place: even though we share more personal stuff with strangers, we care less and less about their opinion. Sharing doesn’t actually mean intimacy or inviting people into your life. Ivanka Trump is posting her kids pictures on Facebook, but it does not mean you can offer her parenting advice. Kim Kardashian, the ultimate anti-privacy contestant of our times (as you have probably realized by now) doesn’t give a damn about all the negative comments. They won’t hurt her or stop her. The invisible barrier is still present. It’s like the more you share, the less it means and the less it could hurt you. Kim is a hero, universally admired and increasingly fascinating.

Monica Lewinsky (whose scandalous deeds were more innocent and probably fewer) was ruined forever. She sold books, gave interviews and took part in the weight loss ads, but she was never able to have any meaningful career to speak of. Tiger Woods – also never recovered. Who would have thought that a golf player’s career is so vulnerable and would not survive a trivial sex scandal? Seriously? Is he the only athlete who’s done it?

My take on this, neither of them should have used their right to privacy as a weapon, because, frankly, it sounds week. If your only defense is “I’m not going to tell why I did what I did, because of my right to privacy” – you’ve lost.

The conclusion of the Circle’s founder is: “We are not meant to know everything. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? You people are creating a world of ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. Everyone should have a right to anonymity.”

I’m not so sure about it. It appears that the right to privacy is somehow conditional, but I at least for myself, I have not fully figured it out yet.

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10 Responses to The Circle or your right to privacy

  1. lucidsunrise says:

    The answer is fairly simple: If you need peer pressure and surveillance in order to behave in a decent way, then you are a fairly awful person. 😀

    The condition on the right to privacy is the same as the condition to something being in public domain: Is society (legitimately) concerned?

  2. TDT says:

    I like this tedtalk on ‘Why privacy matters’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcSlowAhvUk

    Also what exactly makes Kim a hero?

  3. Elizaveta says:

    Like to read you. Do you have open account in Instagram?

  4. Johanna says:

    Privacy is important for us as for any other animals (sorry 🙂 ) and it will not disappear. One way to deal with it is exactly what you described “I post my life on Facebook, but I don’t care what others tell” (parenting advice). For some social group everything will become public (modern hipsters etc), but it’s their choice, and yes, it will correlate with income and social responsibility. Other will protect their right to privacy.

  5. Ezik says:

    Love reading your blog, quite thought provoking 🙂 – but I’ve respectfully disagree with many of your opinions.. I’ve known plenty of interesting, successful, intellectual people who completely ignore the social media beyond the basics. They simply don’t need to express themselves that way – they are quite confident in all the aforementioned qualities and don’t need external approval or validation… Sharing without giving a damn what others think — what exactly is the purpose of it except the exhibitionism ? There are very few people who have something of value to say or share… Kim is a shrewd businesswomen but no hero (I do like how she looks and her daughter is very cute 🙂 . Walking naked on the street would effectively pushed the boundaries of acceptable – but how exactly would it benefit to society ?

    The book sounds very interesting – definitely will read, thank you for reviewing it 🙂

  6. Pingback: You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day | Fleurf. Life is about enjoying yourself while looking fabulous

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