Friday, June 13, 2014

Book note: "The Circle" by Dave Eggers

There are many of us who daily reflect on what it means that we are using Google, Facebook and other internet based companies with so many aspects of our daily lives. Some refuse to "sell their soul" to Google while others take the position that it does not matter or that it is too late anyway. The issue that is at the core of these positions is the relationship or balance between usefulness (as in functionality) and privacy. It is obvious that many useful functions have consequences when it comes to privacy, for instance, to accept and use apps that know my location can be useful but it also means I share that information with others.

Dave Eggers' book "The Circle" is a novel that takes on this question in an intriguing and entertaining way. The book is about the company "The Circle" that has swallowed Google and Facebook and many others to become the biggest internet company in history. The story follows a young new employee, Mae, through her introduction to the company and how she becomes one of the core people in it.

I found the book exciting to read and also unusually well developed when it comes to the ideas. Eggers describes "The Circle" as a company where principles such as "privacy is theft", "caring is sharing", has grown to such an extreme level that people have to share everything in their lives. Activities and information is shared and measured and made public. Eggers makes this extreme reality both believable and terrifying.

I will not write a full review here since there are many good reviews of this book, see for instance Margaret Atwood's excellent review. Atwood's review addresses both the literary aspects of the book and the ideas that Eggers develop.

I must say that the book forced me to think more in detail about what kind of future present technology can lead to. The fact that it is a novel makes it possible for Eggers to take some freedom with what technology can do, but it also makes it possible for him to push some aspects of privacy and big data to the extreme in a way that makes the story technologically believable. At the same time Eggers use this format to reveal many of the underlying assumptions and ideals that govern the development.

I am strongly recommending this book to anyone who is in any way interested in the growth and development of information technology, Big Data, interaction, and the internet and what it means to our future society.