A Digital Noose ‘Round Every Corner
A Digital Noose ‘Round Every Corner
Graduation season. Parties, commencements, speeches and lots and lots of photos. Recently, I loaded all of the pictures onto a PC and saved them into a folder, digitally labeled and timestamped, for posterity. The next day, I noticed a message from Microsoft. It said: “Click here to see the photo album we created for you!” I clicked and saw the very same photos I had loaded just hours before. However, I never requested for my personal memories to be shared, let alone arranged into an album organized by the company whose operating system runs my computer. Evidently, somewhere a while back, a box must have been checked, or unchecked, thus surrendering my right to privacy.
Every day I receive e-mail requests from Linkedin.com, Facebook and other networking websites to follow, like, or join, with people I am actually acquainted with in the real world. The messages ask me if I “know” them as I see their photos and information along with the opportunity to electronically consummate with them, should I so choose.
Except I don’t Facebook, am not Linkedin, and wouldn’t care to Twitter to save my life. Neither do I Snap-a-gram or Insta-chat. But I do e-mail, text, blog, and surf all throughout the Ethernetic Webisphere. Furthermore, in three dimensions, I also shake hands, pat backs, punch shoulders and give hugs whenever I can. Nonetheless, in so doing, I do wonder how all these internet applications and websites find me. I assume they identify the connections to round off established social circles via my e-mail as accessed through the shared contact listings of those who know me.
One time I was having lunch out of town with a friend when he looked up to the waitress and said that he knew her parents. Because she had never seen him before, she seemed somewhat startled, shocked in fact, until he explained how he knew all about her from her parent’s various postings on Facebook. I also had a friend once tell me how the Facebook “Memories” program resent an embarrassing message and photo he had posted years ago while extremely intoxicated. Evidently, Facebook doesn’t forget.
On another occasion I received a call from someone who needed a ride home. No problem, except they were located two hours away from the city where we both lived. Fortunately though, when they called, I was not far from them. When I asked how they knew I was in town, they said they saw a snapshot of me that my cousin’s wife had posted on Facebook a few minutes before. Later, when I asked to see the photo during our ride home, I saw an aerial view of myself sitting around a fire-pit with my cousin. It was taken from the deck above where we were sitting and without our knowledge.
It is a small world, and getting smaller. Indeed.
Someone who once worked for me fell ill on Christmas day several years ago and was taken to the emergency room of our local hospital. The doctor identified an abdominal abscess and immediately prescribed the proper course of treatment. None of that seemed out of the ordinary until it was discovered that the doctor did all of it while working at a hospital in New Zealand; half a globe and seven time-zones away. My friend literally received her prognosis on Christmas from a doctor living in tomorrow.
These are just a few of the examples I was reminded of while recently reading a seemingly prophetic book called “The Circle”, by Dave Eggars. Published in 2013, the story fictionalizes the actual, and now common, experiences as described above. In fact, if I was paranoid, I would swear the narrative was nothing more than a CIA commissioned psyop designed to soothe the masses into the inevitable future of progressively encroaching electronic enslavement. The movie, which I did not see, came out in April of this year and starred Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
The story centers around a young millennial in her mid-twenties and just a few years out college, who lands a universally coveted job at The Circle, a high-tech firm along the lines of Google, Apple, and Facebook combined into a facility housing 10,000+ employees and daily growing. The self-contained complex is divided into the separate ages of Mankind with names like The Enlightenment, The Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, et al.
With near monopolies in the search engine, free e-mail and cell-phone texting software markets, the Circle is run by “Three Wise Men”, one of which developed TruYou, a ubiquitous online platform, which combined social media profiles, payment systems, passwords, e-mail, user names, and virtually every other online application into a single, unified operating system:
TruYou – one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person…. 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.
Eggers, Dave. (2013). “The Circle”, First Vintage Books Editions, May 2014, page 21-22
The world of The Circle allows people around the globe to interface online via biometrics, including facial and voice recognition. Tablets are provided to schoolchildren complete with cloud technology; and the employees of the company are offered comprehensive healthcare with wrist monitors to measure all bodily functions. In the health center and all around the campus, signs remind those in The Circle of simple, yet comprehensive principles in the form of direct aphorisms:
ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN
TO HEAL WE MUST KNOW. TO KNOW WE MUST SHARE.
Like Google’s real-life successful enterprise to digitally map the entire earth, so do those in The Circle engage in various ancillary projects like counting all of the grains of sand in the Sahara desert and photographing every tree in the Amazon. One of The Circle’s Three Wise Men even commissions a team of high-tech savants to develop a state-of-the-art submarine to explore the earth’s deepest ocean trench in a manner eerily reminiscent of Elon Musk’s (Tesla) and Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon.com) private endeavors to dominate outer space.
Also similar to Google’s and Microsoft’s global educational initiatives to wire every child on earth into the matrix, the electronic tentacles of The Circle also reach into schools across the world. On The Circle campus there is a building called the “Protagorian Pavilion” with a granite slab out front that states: “humans are the measure of all things.” Although not clearly stated as such in the book, this is an obvious tribute to the Greek sophist, Protagoras, who said that “man is the measure of all things”. The Circle, therefore, utilizes a software platform named ClassRank whereby students are ranked in every state and nation according to test results, class percentile, the school’s relative academic strength, and other factors against any variation of socioeconomic and demographic classification.
The Circle’s own employees are identified according to an application called PartiRank which is based on digital participation, and social media integration. In The Circle, the highest ideals are recognized as Passion, Participation and Transparency. This is manifested in the form of fictional $59 satellite-operated, concealed cameras that can be wirelessly positioned, then connected to social media where people can “like” each other to receive access to each and every device.
Ostensibly, the ubiquitous video network could be used to prevent human rights violations, and eliminate crime, in every nation of the world. The Circle named their ever-burgeoning visual grid, “SeeChange“; and it would most likely give GoPro the shutters, if not underexposure, or premature calibration.
As one of the Three Wise Men of The Circle, played by Tom Hanks in the film, tells the female protagonist in the narrative:
But my point is, 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 they’re illegal money transfer was being tracked? If they’re blackmailing phone call was being recorded? If their stick-up at the gas station was being filmed by a dozen cameras, and even the retinas identified during the robbery? If their philandering was being documented in a dozen ways?
…we would finally be compelled to be our best selves. And I think people would be relieved. There would be this phenomenal global sigh of relief. Finally, finally, we can be good. In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice BUT to be good. Can you imagine?”
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 292
The Circle measures all things for the good of mankind. And, in the book, the end-goals are the completion of “circles”. There is a brief mention of CircleMoney designed to eliminate the need for paper cash and curtail crime; a program entitled TruYouth whereby microchips are embedded into children for safety and tracking purposes, thus circumventing any kidnapping attempts; a smartphone software application called Homie, that scans the barcodes of all the products in one’s house so it can reorder as needed; solar-powered drones that can “travel unlimited distances, across continents and seas”; PerfectPast where billions of internet users fill in historical gaps by loading photos and information allowing The Circle to utilize facial recognition software, and other diverse tracking systems to match and make connections to multitudinous historical happenings known and unknown; WeaponSensor that “registers the entry of any gun into any building”; and SoulSearch which utilizes the Circle’s tracking systems, and the worldwide populace, to locate any missing fugitive within minutes.
In addition, there are other law enforcement tools offered by The Circle including one which identifies previous criminals, and the nature of their past crimes, by assigning colors to their physical forms as viewed through the retinal software of the police. At The Circle, the signs are clear. They say:
SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT
As mentioned before, healthcare is a priority to those in The Circle. This is evidenced by a complete health-data program which monitors all employees at the Circle in real time. A health summit of sorts is also revealed where the leaders of “all the major health insurance companies, World health agencies, Centers for Disease Control, and every significant pharmaceutical company” meet at on the Circle campus and agree to universally shared information. This is viewed as the completion of another “circle”.
Of course, when there were those who expressed concerns over fears of potential totalitarianism, the protestations were summarily dismissed as the ravings of “lunatics” donning “tinfoil hats”; a description which, most interestingly, escapes the understanding of the story’s female, millennial protagonist.
…of COURSE it will work, they said – and when it does, you’ll finally have a fully engaged populace, and when you do, the country and the world will hear from the youth, and their inherent idealism and progressivism will upend the planet.
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 402
Near the end of the book, the idea is presented to use the TruYou system to integrate with the government as a form of voter registration, tax collection, payment of fines and even as a means to require mandatory voting by 100% of the citizenry; thus creating a perfect democracy, saving the government billions and eliminating lobbyists, polls, and perhaps even the need for Congress.
… and she thought of that painting of the Constitutional Convention, all those men in powdered wigs and waistcoats, standing stiffly, all of them wealthy white men who were only passably interested in representing their fellow humans. They were purveyors of an innately flawed kind of democracy, where only the wealthy were elected, where their voices were heard loudest, where they passed their seats in Congress to whatever similar entitled person they deemed appropriate.
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 403
Yet the new system “would explode it all” and was viewed as “the only chance at direct democracy the world had ever known”. This is presented as the final step of closing The Circle. To the enthusiastic employees it meant:
“Everyone on Earth has a Circle account!
“The Circle solves world hunger.”
“No data, human or numerical or emotional or historical, is ever lost again.”
“The Circle helps me find myself”.
Naïve? Perhaps. But are utopian dreams ever considered impractical in reality? Obviously not, especially when considering Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his recently stated desire for universal income.
Yet, the chief architect of The Circle, and one of the Three Wise Men, said it this way:
….if you can control the flow of information, you can control everything. You can control most of what anyone sees and knows. If you want to bury some piece of information, permanently, that’s two seconds’ work. If you want to ruin anyone, that’s five minutes’ work. How can anyone rise up against the Circle if they control all the information and access to it?
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 487
That’s it, right there, isn’t it? The old maxim of: Knowledge is power. In the book, this axiom was exemplified when one of the Three Wise Men was shown to have the ability to scandalize any U.S. congressman who threatened to apply antitrust laws to break up The Circle’s monopoly. Perhaps this is an example of art imitating real life?
Given the early twenty-first century revelations provided by the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, could it explain why Chief Justice John Roberts wrote both the majority and dissenting opinions on the initial Obamacare ruling, which caused even liberal media outlets to label as swing justice? Could it explain why the establishment Republican’s refuse to repeal Obamacare now? Is it why the swamp will never be drained in Washington DC?
Any technocratic, utopian dreams of Collectivism in the extreme, contains the hope that complete transparency will eradicate lies and establish accountability. And with no lies there will remain only justice. See something, say something. Security? Or privacy? Given the duality of mankind, these two concepts have become mutually exclusive. Safety, in the modern world of mass destruction, must always take precedence. Right?
Yet, this is the real problem with dystopian tyranny. What is good for thee, is not for me. The elite cynically oppress the proles while telling them it’s for their own good; for their safety, or for the good of Mankind overall. While, at the same time, they shroud themselves in secrecy and corruption, shielding their own asses, and wallets, with the unadulterated power of an avant-garde, weapons-grade, nation-state working in collusion with multifarious, multi-national corporations.
Even after American citizens paying full price for products today, or through taking advantage of “free” services offered by U.S. corporations, these companies in turn, demand we “click” to “accept” the “terms” of our surrender; including our Fourth Amendment rights and usually in deference to the proprietorial protection of the corporate entity’s intellectual property rights; and, always without an attorney present.
Then, global corporate monoliths like Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and Facebook, additionally, share our personal information with the NSA, or CIA, or FBI, et al, all for our own protection, and the common good.
Yet, somehow, elite billionaires like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk regally rise above the fray and escape the daily drudgery of the little peoples. They preach diversity and open borders from within their gated compounds; and advocate equality while claiming some are more equal than others.
The author of “The Circle”, Dave Eggars, while preaching on the positives of Hillary Clinton in 2016, once called then presidential candidate, Donald Trump, a world-ending meteorite. Moreover, a peculiar and trivial tidbit here: On the final track of the musician Beck’s 2006 album “The Information”, entitled “The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton“, you can hear the audio of Eggars and Hollywood director, Spike Jonze, responding to Beck’s question, “What would the ultimate record that ever could possibly be made sound like?”
Interestingly enough, Spike Jonze later wrote and directed the 2013 movie “Her”, that has been described as a film depicting the “essential need for sociability and love uncomfortably linking it with our antisocial dependency on technology.”
Eggars, in “The Circle”, that was coincidentally published in the same year as Jonze’s movie, describes a scene where a family friend becomes frustrated with the female protagonist’s addiction to technology:
No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of them are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen, searching for strangers in Dubai.
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 262
It is later in the story, though, where the heroine describes why most people voluntarily yoke themselves to technology’s electronic chains:
….most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know – they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know we die. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 289
In the age of dash-cam videos broadcasting worldwide the drunken decline of professional golfers, almost one- third of all internet users now view videos on YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, the largest internet search-engine company on the planet. Beginning in 2015, YouTube had attained such high-priority status that they could require quid-quo-prodemands to their content providers whereby their videos would be removed unless creators subscribed to the new “YouTube Red” service agreement for a $9.99 a month subscription. What a great way to launch a new product. Simply demand that your customers have to buy it under penalty of duress. Why didn’t Obama and the Democrats think of this when they launched The Affordable Healthcare Act? Oh wait.
The top-three most-visited websites on the internet today consists of Google, YouTube and Facebook; a search engine, a video sharing platform and a social-media network. And, as of last year, Apple was the most profitable company in the world, raking in 79% of all global profits. Like government, they are all continually enlarging and growing more powerful every minute of every day, with no end in sight. They are expanding circles.
As one of the Three Wise Men of The Circle, tells the protagonist of the story:
A circle is the strongest shape in the universe. Nothing can beat it, nothing can improve upon it, nothing can be more perfect. And that’s what we want to be: perfect. So any information that eludes us, anything that’s not accessible, prevents us from being perfect.
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 289
I truly believe if we have no path but the right path, the best path, then that would present a kind of ultimate and all-encompassing relief. We don’t have to be tempted by darkness anymore… I think we can be better. I think we can be perfect or near to it. And when we become our best selves, the possibilities are endless. We can solve any problem. We can cure any disease, and hunger, everything, because we won’t be dragged down by all our weaknesses, our petty secrets, our hoarding of information and knowledge. We will finally realize our potential.
Eggars, “The Circle”, pg. 293-294
Yes, utopian dreams do often take the form of tunnel-vision, like gazing through portholes into oceans of possibilities. The circle can represent perfection, a distant twinkling star, mysterious and interminable; comprised of the irrational and transcendental number that is Pi. A circle can also be a hurricane, or a corral where horses are broke, then trained into submission. Or a cage, a noose, or an eye. In any event, within modern society, all of the circles are near complete. To infinity, and beyond.