From Dave Eggers' THE CIRCLE, a dystopian novel about overinformation, in which Mae, a modestly ambitious yuppie, becomes overexposed to public viewing in a Google or Facebook-like company, The Circle, acting as a 24/7 live walking camera and frontperson. In a public conversation with the company's guru, Bailey, we get a sense of the company's compulsory feelgood philosophy of social networking:
"I think it's simple. If you care about your fellow human beings, you share what you know with them. You share what you see. You give them anything you can. If you care about their plight, their suffering, their curiosity, their right to learn and know anything the world contains, you share with them. You share what you have and what you see and what you know. To me, the logic there is undeniable."
The audience cheered, and while they did so, three new words, SHARING IS CARING, appeared on the screen, below the previous three. Bailey was shaking his head, amazed.
"I love that, Mae, you have a way with words. And there's one more statement you made that I think should cap off what I think everyone here would agree has been a wonderfully enlightening and inspiring talk."
The audience clapped warmly.
"We were talking about what you saw as the impulse to keep things to yourself."
"Well, it's not something I'm proud of, and I don't think it rises above the level of simple selfishness. Now I really understand that we're obligated, as humans, to share what we see and know. And that all knowledge must be democratically accessible."
"It's the natural state of information to be free."
"We all have a right to know everything we can. We all collectivelly own the accumulated knowledge of the world."
"Right," Mae said. "So what happens if I deprive anyone or everyone of something I know? Aren't I stealing from my fellow humans?"
"Indeed," Bailey said, nodding earnestly. Mae looked to the audience, and saw the entire first row, the only faces visible, nodding, too.
"And given your way with words, Mae, I wonder if you can tell us this third and last revelation you made." What did you say?"
"Well, I said, privacy is theft."
Bailey turned to the audience. "Isn't that an interesting way of putting it, guys? 'Privacy is theft.'" The words now appeared on the screen behind him, in great white letters:
PRIVACY IS THEFT
Mae turned to look at the three lines together. She blinked back tears, seeing it all there. Had she really thought of all that herself?
SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT
Mae's throat was tight, dry. She knew she couldn't speak, so she hoped Bailey wouldn't ask her to. As if sensing how she felt, that she was overcome, he winked at her and turned to the audience.
"Let's thank Mae for her candor, her brilliance, and her consummate humanity, can we please?"
The audience was on its feet. Mae's face was on fire. She didn't know if whe should sit or stand. She stood briefly, then felt silly, so sat down again, and waved from her lap. Somewhere in the stampeding applause, Bailey managed to announce the capper to it all—that Mae, in the interest of sharing all she saw and could offer the world, would be going transparent immediately.
She was under no illusion that every minute of her day was equally scintillating to her watchers. In the weeks Mae had been transparent, there had been downtime, a good deal of it, but her task, primarily, was to provide an ope nwindow into life at the Circle, the sublime and the banal. "Here we are in the gym," she might say, showing viewers the health club for the first time. "People are running and sweating and devising ways to check each other out without getting caught." Then, an hour later, she might be eating lunch, casually and without commentary, across from other Circlers, all of them behaving, or attempting to, as if no one was watching at all. Most of her fellow Circlers were happy to be on-camera, and after a few days all Circlers knew that it was a part of their job at the Circle, and an elemental part of the Circle, period. If they were to be a company espousing tranparency, and the global and unending advantages of open access, they needed to be living that ideal, always and everywhere, and especially on campus.
Thankfully, there was enough to illuminate and celebrate within the Circle gates. The fall and winter had brought the inevitable, all of it, with blitzkrieg speed. All over campus there were signs that hinted at imminent Completion. The messages were cryptic, meant to pique curiosity and discussion. What would Completion mean? Staffers were asked to contemplate this, submit answers, and write on the idea boards. Everyone on Earth has a Circle account! one popular message said. The Circle solves world hunger, said another. The Circle helps me find my ancestors, said yet another. No data, human or numerical or emotional or historical, is ever lost again. That one had been written and signed by Bailey himself. The most popular was The Circle helps me find myself.