The Circle: The Future

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The Circle: The Future

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nov 18, 2013, 8:57pm

The Circle predicts a very bleak future. Does it seem plausible? How do we avoid it?

nov 18, 2013, 9:16pm

I think it had the potential to reflect a plausible future, but the gigantic leap from "we can use this website to register people to vote" to "this website must be mandatory for everyone" just didn't make any logical sense. The story completely lost me at that point.

I think that would definitely be the biggest hurdle for a real-life totalitarian corporation, making it mandatory, and the book didn't truly explain how it could happen.

nov 18, 2013, 9:31pm

That's what scared me the most. I can see how it could happen.

My doctor's office proudly informed me that I will now be looking up my medical data on-line. They will no longer give me a call with test results or mail me a letter.

--I-- certainly didn't ask them to put my personal health data on-line!

If I want to know how my children are doing in school, I am now to log on to the Parent Portal and check their grades. Indeed, I am encouraged to do this daily. One time I scheduled a meeting and the teacher didn't even bother to show up. It was 'okay' though, because another staff member arrived, with the on-line print out of my child's grades.

And I confess I don't understand why parent volunteers are setting up Facebook pages for children's classrooms. This seems to me like more sharing than we need to be doing.

I think we get to such a scary future one very small step after another. For example, my son's high school was the only one in the county to administer the 'Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery' to all 11th graders this year. It was mandatory for them. My son told me not to worry: it's just his school. It's not like the military is now screening all high schoolers.

So, next year if they give this test to all 11th graders in the county, I'm guessing they'll say, 'What's the big deal? Last year kids at X School took the test. This is nothing new.' And step by seemingly insignificant step we give away more freedom.

nov 18, 2013, 9:34pm

I read my own words and think I sound like a panicked fruitcake. I am probably not the kind of person who should have read The Circle! I know people will add some posts soon that disagree with mine, and that will actually make me feel better. I got the heebie-jeebies from the book, that's for sure.

nov 18, 2013, 9:41pm

> 4 I thought your emotions in 3 were perfectly valid, even if I disagreed with some of them. The medical history going online, for example. I'm sick to death of having to call, mail, etc. former doctors to get my records transferred to new ones. Having it all online where I can actually see it, and easily pass it along to the necessary doctor sounds great!

That said, I would be concerned about at what point I'd lose control of such information—do doctors have a need or right to know that I was tested for x, y, or z, even if said results turned up negative? And security concerns abound, of course.

nov 18, 2013, 9:46pm

The potential for abuse of the power comes not because all of this stuff is online, but because all of it is managed by a single company, The Circle. That's not to say that we don't already have a lot of the same things going on today but it's not nearly as leveraged as it would be with a single point of access/storage.

I mean, we know what books you are reading here at LT but we don't have access to your medication history, criminal history, etc. So the potential for abuse by LT is low.

Although....putting those things together we could probably give you some pretty damned good recommendations: both for books and future medications. Hah! :)

Redigeret: nov 18, 2013, 9:48pm

>5 lorannen: Yes! I think that's why the book scared me so much. I CAN see the reasonableness in having the info on-line...once I got over the initial shock. Every single on-line thing I do has a good and reasonable basis. Being here tonight is a good example: I wanted to grow more familiar with the on-line world, and wanted to be a bit more social. So here I am in my very first book club. An on-line one! Discussing how scared I am at the possible bad effects of too much info being available on-line.

I LOVE the irony of this, by the way. You guys couldn't have chosen a better book to start this book club with!

But the point is, when Bailey explained it to Mae, I found myself unable to disagree with him. Total openness SOUNDS good, and it's only my gut-feel of 'this is bad' that can disagree. And how do you do a cogent argument with only your gut giving input?

So, how DO we know when to stop? I don't know the answer to that.

nov 18, 2013, 9:49pm

Oh, and I'm one of those people that LOVES having much of this information online, but for completely practical purposes.

One example: my wife has had some medical problems and it's pretty invaluable to have all of her medications, scans, etc. online so that we can review them and give them to other doctors when we need them (without having to wait for some office worker 1000 miles away to "get to it" later in the day) as well as review and question them.

nov 18, 2013, 9:53pm

But I must say that I'm all for availability and access, but certainly NOT openness. That's my main takeaway: privacy is even more important in a digital world.
I want access to my data but I don't want anybody to know that I like unicorns, fluffy animals, and ordering pizzas at midnight.

Redigeret: nov 18, 2013, 9:57pm

I don't even think the problem is that all the information lies with The Circle (though that isn't ideal), in the end the real problem is that they make everything publicly available. I'm fine with whatever doctors having access to my electronic medical records, but I don't want them to be available to just anyone.

>9 conceptDawg: Yes, exactly. I think there's a huge difference between people who have a reason to know, and publicly available.

nov 18, 2013, 10:00pm

Maybe...thinking hard here...maybe what's so scary isn't the huge amount of personal info that can get onto the internet.

Maybe it's that for generations growing up with this technology, they may become too comfortable with it and forget or never learn to relate to other humans person-to-person.

It does feel pretty good to sit here and write this, and know that in a minute or so you will be reading it. Perhaps you'll respond to me. And I'll read your words. It's definitely kind of cool.

If this was the primary way I'd learned to interact with others, would I want to take the effort to know people face-to-face? Mae makes a choice to interact with her thousands of followers rather than her parents and Mercer. It's more satisfying to her. I'm thinking maybe that's really what scared me.

nov 18, 2013, 10:10pm

Let me play devil's advocate for a second, just for entertainment purposes:

Maybe it's that for generations growing up with this technology, they may become too comfortable with it and forget or never learn to relate to other humans person-to-person.
If this was the primary way I'd learned to interact with others, would I want to take the effort to know people face-to-face?

I don't know about this new invention that all the kids are using for hours every night, what are they calling it? The "telephone?"

(just kidding)

I think most major, disruptive technologies tend to be looked at with an untrusting eye by older generations. That's not to say that there isn't value in doing so but that it's nothing new.

nov 18, 2013, 10:25pm

>12 conceptDawg: I totally agree. I think every new technology is seen by some as something that's going to ruin society, but nothing will ever reduce the joy that humans get from seeing other humans in the flesh.

nov 18, 2013, 10:37pm

I must say I am a bit worried about embodied interaction. It's very, very important in developing solid relational skills. I have no fear that human's can't integrate all and any form of technology successfully into their lives, and even have the technology change the framework of literacy (e.g. pen and papyrus, printing press, etc), but we tend to underestimate the sheer quantity of important information lost, when embodied contact is. So that's my shtick in all this -- the importance of lived interaction in accruing real skills in a real world. The matrix will never be possible.

nov 18, 2013, 10:39pm

and online/digital learning is terrible, too.

nov 18, 2013, 10:41pm

I spend more time on the internet than my nieces and nephews do. I'm not worried about them...

nov 18, 2013, 10:49pm

I enjoy online/digital learning a lot, but only if I have an actual video of the teacher's face while talking about the subject.

I think it really depends on how you look at it, as well. Online/digital learning is inferior to in-person learning, for sure, but it's superior to previous methods of distance learning, right? (To be honest I don't know what those were. Dry-reading textbooks? Course materials by mail?)

nov 18, 2013, 10:53pm

As I said, the book scared me. I started being less scared after reading Post 12. Thanks, conceptDawg, and thank you to all of you who are posting tonight. My fear was of a Mae-like society of brainless soulless internet-only people. But the reality is that I'm talking on-line to intelligent, thought-filled people who are sharing their opinions with me and helping me expand my world and grow inside myself by being a part of my first book club. :)

Lots of people use Twitter and other things I know nothing about, to 'follow' people. Do you guys think that if use of those services continues growing, people could be tracked down the way Mae did Mercer? Would real humans hunt someone like that in your opinion? Or was that an un-believeable part of the book to you?

nov 19, 2013, 12:01am

15: and online/digital learning is terrible, too.

It is? Could you elaborate? The social context is important for, say, college, and the physical presence of a teacher is important for, say, kindergarten, and probably for much of the time in between, but it doesn’t have to be either/or. And as an adult living in a small city with a full time job, I am grateful for opportunities to connect to other people with compatible interests (whether formal courses or not), which often wouldn’t be possible otherwise, for reasons of geography and schedule. I read more attentively with LT than I have in previous years. Also depends on what you’re trying to learn; e.g. history vs dance, and even here I can imagine plausible online scenarios. I find online discussions easier to deal with than large groups in person.

nov 19, 2013, 12:05am

>18 Merryann: - I am also on Twitter and its great because I can check every now and then and not feel like I have to be on it constantly. However, a lot of this book, especially hunting down Mercer, depends on people watching live streaming video of other people. I would assume there is a computer vision component but even still, who wants to watch all that video? It seemed like this was a major part of the Circle and yet it seems so odd for me to want to watch more than 3-4 minutes of live streaming video (unless its the penguin cam at San Diego zoo...)

nov 19, 2013, 6:36am

It feels like the slippery slope to me...we seem to be getting more comfortable with less privacy...or at least no longer expect the same privacy. We choose to drive cars and use phones that track our locations, we willingly allow TSA to look under our clothes, we tweet our location throughout the day 'having a pumpkin pie latte at...', when we shop the stores collect our credit card numbers & bank accounts & purchases so they can target market us. Wouldn't it just be easier if some nice company like the Circle coordinated all this info so it wasn't so piecemeal?

I think there are already a lot of companies existing with more information about me then I am comfortable with. With a few mergers and acquisitions of major conglomerates and even more information is merged.

Whew, I'm starting to sound paranoid. Now where did I leave my tin foil hat?

nov 19, 2013, 7:34am

>20 pbirch01: I totally agree with that. It felt really weird to me. Plus, if the idea is for eventually everyone to have their life on camera at all times, who will be left to watch the videos? Wouldn't most people's videos just be watching other videos?

nov 19, 2013, 8:18am

>21 CarolO: For the record, "we" don't all do that. Some of "us" are very conscious of these things and make efforts to avoid them wherever and whenever we can. I have only visited back home in the US once in the 4.5yrs I have lived here, because having my rights violated by TSA is not something I willingly allow (and when I did go, I refused the naked machine which would both show someone as well as store for future use my nude image, and opted for the patdown). I have never used any "app" that transmits my location, and only mention (on the occasion that I feel like sharing it with friends) on specific sites not visible to all either before or after when I'm going somewhere, certainly without any specifics about its exact location, merely the name. I go out of my way to avoid websites run by certain huge companies so that they cannot collect any more information on me than they otherwise get, and I explicitly block cookies from the worst of them, and in general only allow cookies from sites I add to my whitelist. Sadly I can't avoid the loyalty cards at stores because they provide money and discounts, and unfortunately my pockets are not that deep that I'm willing to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

We're not all blindly rushing to give everything of ourselves to those who just want to buy/sell us.

nov 19, 2013, 9:04am

>15 matthewmason:, 19 Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with qebo on this one. I took a few online classes in the last few years, and while they're not what I personally prefer, I still felt they were very worthwhile, and knew a number of classmates who liked online classes better than those taught in-person. Learning styles play a big part here. And there's actually a lot of variation between courses/professors and how they're taught, just like your average, traditional classroom setup.

>23 .Monkey.: I consciously steer clear of Foursquare (and get kind of confused as to its point/popularity) for exactly this reason.

nov 19, 2013, 9:19am

>24 lorannen: Yeah I've never understood it either. I think there's a big difference from an expectant "woo I'm going out to have lunch with some good friends later, can't wait!" and a "is at Restaurant Y at Such&So Street." I don't get it at all. I mean I get why companies like it, yay info handed on a silver platter!, but why does anyone care to "check in" to places like that?? It's beyond me.

nov 19, 2013, 9:37am

>24 lorannen:

What got me thinking about all this was Mae's bizarre experience late in the novel, where she began enacting the desire of the millions of fans streaming through her. It set me thinking about value distance learning, which I suppose I've always been wary of. Her habit changes were more a result of discipline/surveillance, and not distance learning, however its still worth mulling over. Mae's situation kind of reminded me of a horrible communal reversal of second-life.

Informative online classes are definitely informative, but do they increase your skills as effectively? Take learning the piano from a tutor, for example; there is an incredible amount lost in distance learning, and while it does depend on subject, imitation and repetition are critical beyond elementary school. I don't really support ye old traditional classroom, I just can't see a classroom split into little bubbles hundreds of miles apart being as effective. Of course distance learning is better than not learning at all, if not learning at all is the other option. This is often the case. But it can't replace the real thing.

Did anyone understand Mae's auto-dictation (when she repeats her name to herself in order to rally her spirits)? Odd stuff.

nov 19, 2013, 10:07am

>26 matthewmason: I think the "auto-dictation" was part of the survey setup she had in her headset. When she first started doing the surveys they had her record her name, and said she would hear the recording any time she went too long without answering a survey question. I always thought that hearing herself say her name would pull her out of her trance, but it never did.

Redigeret: nov 19, 2013, 10:18am

>26 matthewmason: I really dislike your use of "the real thing" to refer to classroom experiences— it's very dismissive. As I mentioned before, the utility and success of an online class is highly dependent on a number of factors: instructor, material, resources, etc. The medium of the skill being acquired also plays a large role. My online coding classes (among others) have been great! Probably in no small part because I'm going to be sitting at a computer anyway.

There are other sides to all of these coins, of course, and I don't mean to say that you're flat-out wrong, but... I digress. Back on topic!

As for the last bit, Mae repeating her name, I filed that one under "bizarre" and walked mentally walked away. It was weird, and didn't seem to have a purpose. Eggers seemed to be alternately beating the reader over the head with his metaphors and symbolism, and trying to be super deep with stuff like her own voice repeating her name, and "the tear" nonsense. I would definitely appreciate some insight on that one.

nov 19, 2013, 10:36am

Is the whole concept completely unrealistic? No, not in my opinion, but I don't think it will come to that extreme. I think there will be enough people who say, "the emperor has no clothes" to prevent it.

However, I am concerned about kids learning face-to-face social interaction. I think there needs to be more of that, just as I (curmudgeon that I am) think kids need to learn basic math skills before they start depending on calculators. Not so much because I think that they won't always have a calculator available, although that is a possibility, but because they need to understand the underlying concepts.

Redigeret: nov 19, 2013, 10:40am

So what about a future with instant democracy?
"Should we waste tax money on elitist hobbies like classical music?"
"Should muslims be prohibited from polluting our horizons with their ugly minarets?" (yes, this was a referendum in Switzerland, and yes, the majority said it should be prohibited)
(I could go on but I'm already getting sick)

nov 19, 2013, 10:58am

26: Take learning the piano from a tutor, for example; there is an incredible amount lost in distance learning
A 500-seat lecture hall wouldn’t be so suitable for this either. I can see computers (if not necessarily distance learning) playing a role in rote skills here.

26: the real thing
The real thing though has many forms. Seminar vs lecture hall. Ivy League vs community college. Evaluation of product (e.g. term paper) vs process (dance, sport) in something of a continuum. Mental vs physical. I can see concern where nuanced individualized instruction is replaced by cost-cutting one-size-fits-all presentation or multiple-choice or drill, but there’s more to the concept of distance learning.

29: However, I am concerned about kids learning face-to-face social interaction.
Is this a problem among people you know?

Redigeret: nov 19, 2013, 11:37am

>28 lorannen:
>31 qebo:
There are equally as many variables in a virtual classroom that can damage learning as in a non-virtual classroom; class size, amount of distraction, ability gap, etc. And those adverse conditions might make virtual learning a very attractive alternative (e.g. Teacher can talk one-on-one to more students in any given time). Rather than get down into all the nitty-gritty details of what conditions make each type competitive to the other, I'll stick to my opinion that there will always be quite a bit of loss, not just in information, but how one goes about doing the thing being learned, if it's done completely at a distance.

I think distance learning should exist by all means, just not replace it when good embodied learning is an alternative.

The 'tearing' that Mae experienced, the weird sort of emptiness in her downtime, may be an existential fit of some sort, aka Sartre. Or at least that's what I think Eggers was gesturing towards. Not sure about the whole repeating her own name.

>30 PimPhilipse: So what about a future with instant democracy

It's a frightening thought. I remind myself that state and federal governments are republics within a republic, at least here in America, which I think was a great idea.

Redigeret: nov 19, 2013, 11:28am

#26-28 -- I thought that the bit about having the system repeat her name to her in her own voice was highlighting her narcissism. She was in love with the sound of her own voice, her own name. I didn't really read anything into it beyond that.

nov 19, 2013, 12:27pm

>26 matthewmason: I recently took a 15-week online course involving genealogy research from Boston University. It was one of the most robust, information-packed courses I've ever taken (I have a BSN and also a BA and MA in liberal arts, so I'm not exactly a novice when it comes to the traditional university system). I think it's painting with too broad a brush to say that online courses don't increase skills effectively, or that there's an inherent problem with having students hundreds of miles apart (we were, collectively, thousands of miles apart, and in the case of this course, it was a strength). The online course was, in every way that mattered to me, absolutely the real thing.

nov 19, 2013, 12:58pm

>31 qebo: "29: However, I am concerned about kids learning face-to-face social interaction.

Is this a problem among people you know?"

Yes. Most of the times that I go out to eat, I see whole families all using smartphones or tablets but not interacting with one another at all. That seems sad to me.

nov 19, 2013, 1:01pm

>34 labwriter: The internet is an amazing conduit for the flow of information, that goes without saying. When it comes to virtual learning, in terms of skill building one-on-one, I think there is quite literally a tangible difference in teaching-learning from afar, and teaching-learning in physical reality. This is a commonly made point in debates that cycle around effectiveness: whether or not distance-learning statistically puts students at a disadvantage. In a big, distracting lecture hall class, I definitely could see the benefits of distance learning, because teacher-student ratio is so high in that situation.

Redigeret: nov 19, 2013, 2:33pm

As I said elsewhere, I didn't read it as a realistic tale, but as a dystopic fantasy. Nineteen Eighty-Four isn't plausible either. But I think both of them are true in a certain way.

The same goes for the technology and the social progression of technology. Much of it is not plausible. But it rhymes with plausibility the same way the outlandish details of Orwell's worlds rhymed with Stalinism.

To that end, here are my defenses of the various points found implausible.

* Mandatory voting. Things might look different from other countries, where voting is in fact mandatory. Governments do make similar deals, for example the deal between DeCode and the Icelandic government, which gave a single company a monopoly over a country's health records, and indeed over its people's genetics.

But I think the larger point is the way these things creep. Someone invents an internet filter and in no time legislatures are requiring libraries to us it, or they don't get state money.

Or take the Social Security Number. The very act that authorized it stipulated it was not for identification purposes--a sop to Americans who were afraid of European-style national id cards. Now, who would deny that the SSN is the primary identification number in both business and government?

That's it for me now. Gotta go get the kid.

Redigeret: nov 19, 2013, 8:38pm

(Not really sure how to reference something three hops long, but here goes my try:)

>35 TooBusyReading:, >31 qebo: "29: However, I am concerned about kids learning face-to-face social interaction.

Yes, I worry about this also. When my daughter was in her mid-teens she had a friend who came over to the house a couple of times. The friend seemed incapable of putting her cell phone in her pocket. It stayed in her hand all the time. She was either texting on it or reading a text on it all the time. She couldn't come out of the phone long enough to have a conversation with my daughter. It was very sad. The friendship didn't last long.

When Mae is at dinner with her parents and Mercer, and he begs her to put away her phone and be with the three people who are in the same place with her, I found that a realistic and powerful scene.

nov 19, 2013, 8:49pm

>38 Merryann: "When Mae is at dinner with her parents and Mercer, and he begs her to put away her phone and be with the three people who are in the same place with her, I found that a realistic and powerful scene."

Yes, I thought that was a very telling scene. Her "smiles" and ratings were more important than the people she was supposed to love.

Redigeret: nov 20, 2013, 11:18am

>2 norabelle414:, 3

Going back to the earlier comments in this thread, although Eggers didn't paint the leap very well, I can also totally see a plausible future leap from something existing as a corporate thing to it being mandatory for everyone.

At my public university, they make us submit our work to a privately run plagiarism checker site, which keeps your work on file basically forever after you submit it to check against future plagiarism. There is no real option to opt-out. The company provides a useful service to the university, so the university forces us to use it. Extremely hard to object on any principled ground without being viewed as a cheater since the software is being used to maintain academic integrity. Even though if someone else is suspected of plagiarizing your work, the other university with the suspected plagiarizer can request to see your full paper (including private info like name and university!) to see how similar the new work is.

The university also recently switched to using a Gmail-based email system, which caused minor controversy. All students and professors must use that email system for university-related communications. (Profs and TAs are told to warn you they will not respond if you don't use your 'official' email address). This was highly controversial because it means all of our Canadian student (and professor) communications are being routed through a private American company, which means it is legally subject to snooping from the American government. It even got a write-up in the Globe and Mail this week, "E-mail outsourcing to US stokes spying worries":

Admittedly, those cases aren't mandatory for everyone in the country, just everyone in specific public universities. But public institutions mandate the use of private corporations not infrequently... If you want a driver's license you go to a privatized testing company here, DriveTest. Prisons are privatized and run for profit in many US states.

If something is seen to save money, or be morally right, it's easy to get public support for privatization that is seen to be more efficient/effective. And once it's privatized and run for profit, the company has a strong incentive to get everyone to use it. Whether that's bribing judges to put more people in prison (See the 'Kids for Cash' scandal) or funding political campaigns of both political parties, so anyone who gets elected is indebted to you, or demonizing those who support privacy as 'siding with the child pornographers', it's happened already... (The specific quote from the Canadian Public Safety Minister was: “He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”)

nov 20, 2013, 11:38am

An interesting development in corporate acquisitions touches on this question: Facebook, a site whose profit margins depend on aggressively encouraging its users to record and historicize their lives, is attempting to buy Snapchat, a spontaneous, fleeting, and moreover anonymous social tool. They are not completely incompatible, but I do wonder if anonymity and brevity will maintain maintain themselves as core constituents of Snapchat, if Facebook swallows it up.

nov 20, 2013, 12:26pm

Some people have mentioned 1984 when talking about this book, but I kept thinking of Paycheck - specifically the 2003 movie adaptation. Basically its about a single company that controls many aspects of society and erases the memories of its employees when they leave. It seemed similarly plausible to this story and had kind of a similar looming sense of loss of independence. Plus its by Phillip K. dick and i am sure the short story is equally good.

nov 20, 2013, 12:49pm

Thanks, I'll check that story out. Also other PKD stories, because I can :)

nov 21, 2013, 9:48am

I started a new thread about "What rang true?" which is partially about the future and partially about the present.

nov 30, 2013, 8:40pm

Can somebody explain what is meant by the Cloud and why things can't be deleted from it? Is this true of cloud storage today - like that available from iTunes?

Redigeret: nov 30, 2013, 9:36pm

I don't know the entire answer to your question. Companies seem to have "server farms" for want of a better description that store massive amounts of data as a "service" for their customers. For kindle books from Amazon, I believe you can delete them from the Cloud, although this is a relatively (past 2-3 years?) new option. Of course Amazon may still keep records of what you purchased even if you don't have the item. I don't know if you can delete something that you purchased on iTunes. I think I have tried (e.g. duplicates of songs) without 100% success. You can certainly delete personal items that you store on their Cloud system. I have my calendar on the Apple Cloud system so that it can be linked to my phone and both of my computers, but I don't store other personal documents on it. You can change your options to not share anything, which I assume means I could delete my calendar from their Cloud.

dec 1, 2013, 7:04am

As I understood it, the decision to never delete anything was a Circle decision to further the goal of transparency. In reality, your ability to delete information is limited to what you have control over. Some companies will cooperate more than others to assist you in deleting information however once something is posted it can be copied and linked to and forwarded and then you loose control over it.

dec 1, 2013, 12:22pm

So why is it that some of those web pages that have posted famous "mistakes" can get rid of the evidence of those mistakes?

Does Facebook archive everything? Or can stuff be deleted from it?

dec 1, 2013, 1:13pm

I had sort of the same take as Tim did about a creeping forward of technology vs. privacy. I read this book as sort of a snapshot of where we are today, let several years or decades intervene without any countervailing forces, and this is a description of the society that would evolve under those circumstances. Almost as a warning of the importance of constantly balancing the advantages of these technological advantages with the loss of privacy.

In response to some of the other comments, I don't know that there is a big difference in dismissing online learning and dismissing home schooling. The arguments are similar. I have the same concerns about opportunities for social interaction (famously lampooned in South Park), but I would have loved to have opportunities for online courses in classes my school was too small to offer. I also know a number of working adults who use online courses to complete advanced degrees that just wouldn't work time-wise any other way. Ernest Cline in Ready Player One offers an interesting take on an entire school system that children attend virtually.

About Mae hearing her own name in her ear when she took too long to answer a survey question, I kind of had the feeling it soothed her because it was her past self calling to her. Almost like it was the last time she was her own person and she realized at least on a subconscious level that she had lost her sense of self. I may be off the deep end a little on that one.

I'm far from consistent on technology vs. privacy, and I think Eggers got that right. I like having medical records online, plus banking and any number of things, but I often refuse to give my zip code to a cashier at stores that ask for it. Part of the reason one of my favorite inventions is what I call No Human Contact Shopping, and others call self-checkout.

dec 1, 2013, 1:27pm

I don't go to grocery stores that have self-check out and I don't give my zip code to any store that asks for it. I also don't give my e-mail address to stores, doctors, or anybody else when I call in orders. I don't give out my cell phone number either. That phone is for emergencies only.

I believe that one of the most insecure things in our lives today is on-line banking. What to get bilked? Do your banking on-line. I do the save thing. I pay in cash whenever possible.

dec 1, 2013, 1:40pm

While I do most of the things you do not and am comfortable with it, I am curious why you don't use self-checkout. I use it whenever it is available and I have just a few things. There is no requirement to divulge any personal information, and can be a cash-only transaction.

I would rather use self-checkout than depend on a clerk who too often ignores me while he/she talks to a co-worker or someone he knows who is behind me in line, or those who stop in the middle of a transaction to answer the phone. That's just rude. If they have to answer the phone, which they sometimes do, the caller should be told that they will be helped when the customers already waiting have been helped. (This is obviously a pet peeve of mine.)

dec 1, 2013, 1:47pm


I was like you when I first bought a cell phone and I was always very careful about my privacy on line. Slowly, I realize I have been relaxing my "standards" if you want to call them that. I still don't have a Facebook page, but I do use online banking. I only go to my bank, not the gas or electric company's websites etc. I am beginning to give my cell phone number out to more people, regretting these decisions each time. For example, the vet. They only had my home phone number before, but I am never home during the day because I work. So is it better to give them my work number, my cell number or live with the inconvenience of always having to call them back the next day?

This anxiety, which was one of the successes of the book, I think, stems from the dilemma of convenience and connection vs. privacy. Yes I could connect with my friends more easily if I had a Facebook page. Yes, it is better for companies/physicians to have my cell phone number and not use my work phone, but at what price? The knowledge that you are always reachable and therefore condemned to answer when someone calls. The Circle certainly portrayed this well, although not with subtlety.

dec 1, 2013, 2:24pm

dec 1, 2013, 2:55pm

Hah! I love soy lattés too! Hmmmm...

dec 1, 2013, 3:18pm

>50 by benitastrnad, Erm, what's wrong with self-checkout? >_>

Redigeret: dec 1, 2013, 4:01pm

I made a mistake and gave my home number to the optometrist. Now they call me a week ahead and ask me to confirm that I am coming to my appointment. I don't know that far ahead and I resent them calling for that. At least it is the answering machine and I can delete that. prior to this, they called at work, and the phone was answered by our receptionist who took a message and gave it to me. Of course, we now don't have a receptionist at work. Her job has been subsumed by e-mail. I don't give out my e-mail address either.

Why don't I use self-checkout? You have to use a credit card or a debit card. I don't have a debit card, and after a rather ugly time being in debt I only use a credit card for emergencies. As I said, I did the safe thing and use cash or checks whenever possible. The thing about credit cards being safer is a lie. They are actually easier to use for fraud than are checks. I got that from our local police and my bank after my credit card number was stolen. I do keep a credit card and now house it in one of those metal boxes that blocks it from being electronically read.

Probably, my number one reason for not using self-checkout. People need jobs. What are they going to do if they can't run a cash register or flip burgers? Go on welfare?

The job situation was one thing that I thought The Circle did not address. Other than Mercer and Marion, Mae didn't know anybody who did anything other than work at the Circle. I understand why Eggers did that because he was trying to address the issues of privacy, but the way things are headed I see the world becoming more of a place like that depicted in some of the more dystopian science fiction with a small elite and a huge underclass with no way of getting to a better life.

dec 1, 2013, 4:00pm

Er, no you don't. I've never seen one that forced using a card, either in the US or the countries I've used them in in Europe.
There's still a person working it, and there's no less checkouts than there otherwise would be. It's an express-lane option.

dec 1, 2013, 4:03pm

The ones I have seen only allow cards. Can't use checks there. I have seen some that allow the use of cash, but very few.

dec 1, 2013, 4:07pm

Every one I've encountered has allowed cash.

dec 1, 2013, 5:13pm

> 56 I don’t have many of the problems with cards that benitastrnad mentions, but I, too, object to self-service grocery checkout. One store in my neighborhood reverts to only self-service lanes after 9 in the evening. They have one overseer who hovers around to help with the four self-service checkout lanes, in order to okay alcohol purchases, clarify procedures for produce, and to help when the bar codes won’t scan. About half the time the bar codes won’t scan. I do a lot more work in these lanes, plus I do all my own bagging. But I don’t get a reduction in the price for doing more of the checker and bagger’s work. In short, I object because it’s not nearly as automated as it appears to be. I might like it better if it were a bit more seamless and Circle-y!

dec 1, 2013, 5:17pm

Guess you wouldn't like continental Europe, then, where you are pretty much guaranteed to do your own bagging.

dec 1, 2013, 6:31pm

The Safeway near where I used to live has self checkout. That's not offered where I live now. If you don't visit during the busiest part of the day, there is normally only one checkout lane and it is marked "express." When I have only a few things, I usually get stuck behind someone who is doing their week's shopping, and that is certainly not the shopper's fault because they have no other checkout options. When I have quite a few things, someone with only one or two will get behind me in line when the checkout has already started so they have to wait for my big order.

I hate that.

And this morning, when I was buying 4 things and got my turn after the person ahead with a cart-full was finished, the clerk barely acknowledged my presence because she was too busy talking to the person behind me, whom she knew.

I hate that too. If the person is going to have no more personality than a machine, I prefer dealing with a machine.

I've never seen a self checkout station that doesn't accept cash. I'm not denying that they exist; I've just never encountered one.

dec 2, 2013, 2:56am

>56 benitastrnad: I try to avoid the self-checkout, partially for the reason mentioned in this post: self-checkouts eliminated jobs for checkers.

Which brings up a whole new issue: are we at the point in society and technology that we create jobs just so people can work? I can't remember which state in the U.S. I was travelling in a couple of years ago, but they had NO self-service gas pumps. Full service everywhere, and I must say it was pretty nice having someone else pump the gas. I asked why and was told it was to create jobs.

Is this good (think FDR's work programs during Great Depression)? Is it bad?

By the time it got to be Mae's world, I wonder how many jobs would be left. The Circle would make so many careers obsolete (in a perfect Circle world there wouldn't be much need for law enforcement, for example). So, how would anyone be able to pay for the fancy Circle gadgets and computers/phones to run their programs?

Ha ha. Maybe the world is saved by poverty.

dec 2, 2013, 3:00am

>53 JerryMmm:

Loved it. Especially the Starbucks coupon.

dec 2, 2013, 3:53am

>63 Merryann: that is a problem with any automation program. It started to really change the workforce in the industrial revolution. But things have a way to fix themselves somehow.

dec 2, 2013, 1:26pm

Oregon and I believe New Jersey are the only states that have full service gas stations.

dec 2, 2013, 2:55pm

Since all cards charge the business that uses them a transaction fee. This is a percentage of the sales from that card (in some businesses it can be as much as 25%) a few states allowed gas stations to offer a discount if you paid in cash. (Kansas was one of them.) They were forced to quit doing so under pressure from the oil companies who did not want the practice to spread.

The woman who cuts my hair does not accept cards because she has to pay a transaction fee that is a percentage of the sale. She said it cost too much so she accepts cash or checks.

I think what really bothers me is that we are giving up essential things in order to get these conveniences. This was the central issue in the book. I identified with Mercer in that regard. I feel that I am being forced into some practices that I don't agree with simply because it is impossible to not go along with them. I have often asked myself why I am asked for ID when I write a check and those who pay with a card are not. What is the reason for that? I know that it is because the card guarantees payment in case of fraud. But why shouldn't the card payers be asked for ID as well. Wouldn't that cut down on the fraud and save the card company money? I feel that if I don't carry a card with me I am less of a person than those that do.

dec 2, 2013, 3:20pm

Quite a few years ago, most of the gas stations in the area I then lived charged more if the purchase was paid by credit card, and most changed back to a single price whether cash, credit, or debit cards. But the Safeway gas station near me now just in the last several days switched to adding $0.10 per gallon for using credit cards. Guess I'm going to have to start carrying cash.

dec 2, 2013, 3:34pm

Amazon's new (proposed) drone program is straight out of the Circle…

dec 2, 2013, 4:19pm

>68 benitastrnad: It is required when using any card as credit not debit (because that requires a PIN which proves it must be yours because you know the number to enter) that they check it against ID to verify it does belong to the person presenting it. Most stores require their cashiers to do this (and I'm pretty sure it's even the law that it's required whether or not the store advises them to do so, but I'm not 100% positive there) and they can get in trouble for not checking. The only reason people don't, is because they are lazy, plus some customers throw a fit about having to show ID. But it is supposed to be done.

dec 2, 2013, 4:26pm

I have finally finished reading the book and this thread. It seems like the general consensus is that the book is a cautionary tale that isn't particularly well-written. As for self-checkouts, I bet they don't exist in the Circle-world. They would be too anonymous.

dec 2, 2013, 4:27pm

>72 fuzzy_patters: Not if they required some identifier (credit card, login, something) in order to use it.

dec 2, 2013, 4:33pm

Actually, we wouldn't need credit cards. We would use the Circle's currency.

dec 2, 2013, 6:29pm

Re: the discussion of payment methods:

It's funny how there is such a generational (and perhaps country-based) divide in what is even seen as the future. In my experience in Canada, half the people my age don't even own cheques any more. Those who do use them almost exclusively to pay rent. I have literally never seen anyone pay with a cheque at a store, I am 99% sure it would not accepted, but not positive because I can't imagine a circumstance in which anyone would even try. Even the government is pushing for direct-deposits of all government benefits/payments, they have a set date (2016 I think?) for the phase-out of government-mailed cheques entirely.

It also illustrates the difference between when things are run by (monopolistic) corporations vs not. In my opinion, Interac is the best payment system here: it's a non-profit company that is coordinated by all 5 big banks in Canada (they wanted to become a for-profit company at some point, but anti-monopoly provisions prevented it). Canadian debit cards are run with Interac instead of Visa or Mastercard, and processing fees charged to merchants end up being way lower than credit cards. So no cash/cheque needed, and merchants are happy too. When me and my room-mates need to square bills with each other, we use Interac e-transfers (most bank plans give you a couple free a month) to move the money from one of us to the other.

On the other hand, I find it crazy when I drive to the US and can't pay for gas at the pump because they require an American zip code, and can't figure out that my Canadian credit card is valid despite not having a zip code.

dec 2, 2013, 6:48pm

When I went to look at the Amazon drones there was another article on the page that caught my eye. It too was straight out of the Circle. This one was on individual pricing for products at grocery stores. Two people buying the same product pay two different prices. I have noticed this trend in buying from companies I have used for ages. I buy baking products from a certain New England flour company and have done so for years. Twenty years ago I sent them an order in the mail and they sent me products. I made a mistake and gave them my e-mail address when I joined their on-line baking blog. (I love the blog.) However, I now also get advertisements from them. One of them said that I got free shipping with an order over a certain dollar amount. I went home that night and called in my order only to find out that the free shipping was only for on-line customers. I was shocked. Shipping is shipping is shipping. I called the company the next day and they gave me the free shipping and upped it to the fast primo shipping but they did tell me that these offers were only for on-line orders. For a company that prides itself on customer service, I find this whole thing disturbing. Now I see that grocery stores are going to do it too.

I think the Circle is here.

Redigeret: dec 2, 2013, 7:02pm

#76: I'm not sure discounts offered for orders made online count as "the Circle is here". Isn't that just the exact same thing you supported via paying with cash? Ie, stores giving discounts to people who save them money? Having customers place orders online is probably cheaper than having to answer phones.

I mean I agree differential pricing based on things like what web browser you are using does seem pretty creepy (and I hear that happens now?). But is it functionally that much worse than giving students or seniors discounts to people who can prove they are students/seniors? I'd say the main new and scary part about it is the lack of transparency it has, compared to old forms of discounts. I'm not sure if the actual practise is any more unjustifiable though...?

Edited to add: Maybe the extent of the data they collect on you to target the discounts and products is the scary part? Anyone remember this story about Target predicting this teenager was pregnant before her dad knew?

dec 2, 2013, 7:37pm

Wow, that Target story is creepy! I know in the back of my mind that the data are collected, but I never really thought about how it would be used. Maybe I should occasionally buy random things at one store and return them to another so that they don't get such a good reading of my profile.

#75: Yes, the request for the zip code at the gas pump is strange. That has only been the case for the past 5 years or so, I think. They keep making it more and more difficult. Maybe that will force people to use cash again. ;-)

dec 3, 2013, 12:36am

>70 timspalding: I'm not sure I see how Amazon's drones are Circlish. The box of books gets addressed. Then, either a human or an adorable flying robot takes it to the house. Now, if the drone made the decision that it was time for you to have books, picked them out based on what your internet profile felt you would like, debited your account to pay for them, and delivered them to you, THAT would be eerily Circle-like to me.

And please don't think I'm biased just because I refer to humans as 'humans' and drones as 'adorable flying robots'.

Seriously, the only Circlish thing I see about it now, is the loss of yet more jobs for humans, who, while possibly not as cute as adorable flying robots, do need to make a living. Possibly the manufacture and maintenance of drones will create more jobs than the delivering by drones will eliminate. I hope.

Redigeret: dec 3, 2013, 12:49am

Just the normalization of small flying drones. If they followed you, trying to get you to be friendly, they would be Circle-ish.

Personally, I don't think we're going to get this anytime soon. Mechanical things are harder to perfect, and less forgiving of error. People are not going to want drones flying above them which, if they fell, would kill someone. And if they do eventually happen, there are many, many more efficient uses of such drones than as Amazon delivery agents.

dec 3, 2013, 12:58am

One thing I really like about the book The Circle, was how my brain is stretching with all this thinking about the concepts presented in it. I'm enjoying this discussion about The Circle far more than I enjoyed the reading of the actual book, and I thought the book was a good one (albeit scary).

Regarding the recent posts about paying with credit card, here's where I think credit cards are Circley: I pay with my card at the grocery store, the gas pump, the bookstore. The credit card company charges a fee to the grocery store, the gas station, the bookstore. I think there's no fee because it's not broken down on my statement. It's passed on to the merchant.

The merchant raises prices to cover the fee.

So, really, I'm paying the fee, which is, I think, usually something 3%. Feel free to help me out here; I don't really know the numbers.

Now, what does the credit card company do with the fee money? Turns around and gives it back to me in the form of 'rewards'. Some cards are better than others, and give me my 'rewards' in the form of 2 or 3% back in cash. Other cards make me take my 'rewards' in the form of gift cards to places they've decided I should shop. Or, even worse, merchandise they've decided I should want to own. I had one card that wanted me to go on an on-line auction and try to 'win' the preselected items they'd decided I want by outbidding other people with my earned 'points'. Sheesh.

Even the cards that give me 'cash rewards' are Circley. They let me 'earn' more 'rewards' by shopping at the stores they want me to shop at. I can earn extra 'rewards' by buying when they want me to buy.

Am I just finding the Circle in everything? Or do you find that a bit Circley also?

dec 3, 2013, 1:05am

>80 timspalding:. Ah! THAT'S the Circlish part! I see it now! Amazon makes adorable flying robots to deliver books. No harm in that. Peaceful, playful, efficient. I have no objection to that at all.

And then the next step is 'what else can we use these drones for? I only listened to part of the next news clip, the one about the law enforcement guy wanting drones to hunt for drug runners. Should have listened to all of it, but I was too busy trying to make the clip go back because I wanted to see the cute Amazon drones again.

So once we're all used to adorable robots, it will be much easier to get our okay on drones doing things we initially would have said 'no way!' to. Yes. Circlish indeed.

dec 3, 2013, 1:09am

>81 Merryann:

I feel like you've described a… brick in the wall, not the wall. Credit cards, loyalty cards, credit histories, banks, Facebook, Google, etc. exist in a world that is still working to sell, trade and aggregate data. The volume of sales, trades and aggregations increases, but the process is fitful and incomplete, and won't be complete so long as there exists a market with lots of players in competition. Whatever data CVS has on you through it's loyalty program, for example, is hardly out there for all to see--or RiteAid would be using it too! The Circle would is one in which we finally get everything together in one place--one company that knows more about who you are and what you buy than any other company or collection of companies with data agreements could know. Honestly, I think we're heading in that direction. But progress there is going to be fitful, with all sorts of opportunities for competing interests to align in the direction of privacy and non-agglomeration.

dec 3, 2013, 1:41am

I agree. This will happen...unless we protest it. The problem is, it's hard to protest something I have no logical basis for disagreeing with. I have a strong feeling in my stomach that says 'going transparent' is a BAD idea. But when it's broken down, I can't defend my point of view any more than Mae could defend hers against Bailey. As the days pass since I finished The Circle, I find that bugs me. I think that's one reason I'm still here reading the posts.

I don't actually care if my grocery store knows my food and other merchandise preferences. They give me coupons that save me money on stuff I buy anyway. I like that.

But the Target article creeped me out, yet it's absolutely no different from what my local grocery store does with my 'plus' card every time I shop, except that it's to do with that vulnerable time of bringing new life into one's family. And it made me recall, almost 20 years after the event, how angry I was about the case of free baby formula left on my doorstep. A 'gift' from the formula company that, I read in an article, had pinpointed exactly what day the new mother was most likely to be exhausted by parenting and discouraged with breastfeeding, and most open to 'just trying one bottle'.

So, I don't care that 'they' know my favorite ice cream, but I don't want 'them' meddling with decisions affecting my young ones. Except it's okay that they know my young ones' favorite ice cream. I want those coupons.

As you see, I can't form a logical argument at all.

dec 3, 2013, 1:42am

And, as I look over the other posts I see I'm too long-winded. That will be tomorrow's goal, working on that.

dec 3, 2013, 1:47am

Ha. Not at all. But I know the feeling—"If I had more time, I could have written less." :)

dec 3, 2013, 1:56am

:) Thanks.

dec 3, 2013, 2:11am

Lists your longest post. Mine was 2,610 words. :)

dec 3, 2013, 4:48am

So, Tim, you are almost four times as prolix as I am (or 'am I' if you prefer a more classical form).

dec 3, 2013, 11:20am

dec 3, 2013, 11:48am

>90 norabelle414: Really made me chuckle.

dec 3, 2013, 1:47pm


dec 3, 2013, 10:02pm

One thing that I noticed about the book was the spin doctoring. For instance the use of the word secrecy instead of privacy. Secrecy is bad. Transparency is good. Keeping a secret is bad and means that something is wrong. At one point Bailey tells Mae that and goes on say that keeping a secret is depriving the world of knowledge. Knowledge is good and needs to be free. (Where have we heard that already?)

Mercer tried to point out the other side of things. Privacy is good and not everything needs to be known. Somehow the spinning of privacy into secrecy really bothered me as I see evidence of that kind of spinning in so many ways. Not to mention that it is one of the things that people scream so loudly about when it comes to politics and government.

dec 4, 2013, 3:33am

Yes, that was actually a very adroit way of changing the way people viewed privacy in the book. Very scary. Makes e want to go skim though the book and see if there's other instances of that sort of gentle shifting of meanings I missed the first go-through.

>88 timspalding: Thanks Tim. I will NOT try to top your number!

>90 norabelle414:, 92 I'm still laughing. :)

dec 4, 2013, 7:31am

That's pretty much what the NSA and some (not all, but presumably enough) gov reps are doing. "Why do you care if the gov can see everything you do, if you're not doing anything wrong? What do you have to hide?" So it seems like Eggers did a successful job of bring home that point for people. Maybe some of the general population who has been agreeing with those statements ought to read this book for a better perspective.

Redigeret: dec 7, 2013, 12:17am

Here's an blogpost making on Google Glass' policy to forbid facial recognition that's making waves.

"Google’s Anti-Facial Recognition Policy for Glass is Deadly"

The author argues that, in banning facial recognition, Google is damaging children. Rather, he advocates that Google Glass come pre-installed with an "Amber Alert" app, which is constantly scanning for children who have been declared missing.
"Isn’t this very real prospect of technologically-enhanced safety worth sacrificing a bit of our own privacy? While I’m not a parent, if anyone of my family were to go missing, their privacy would be the last thing I’d be concerned about. And if I’d gone missing, I’d want everyone to do all they could to find me, even if it meant sacrificing my own privacy."
"In my opinion, such a system could be used to help save thousands of lives. But then, we’re too damn caught up on absolute privacy that we’re willing to sacrifice actual, physical lives to ensure our privacy remains untainted. Such individualist dogma is deadly."
Circle-y, no?

dec 7, 2013, 12:23am

Wow. VERY Circle-y.

dec 7, 2013, 1:52am

Well, if the transhumanist eventually have their way, they're always wearable countermeasures!

dec 7, 2013, 5:25am

Comments on a repost of that article are pushing back with some good words:

dec 7, 2013, 10:13am

dec 7, 2013, 10:18am

And that is the kind of reason I am "downgrading" my phone.

dec 7, 2013, 10:37am


Redigeret: dec 7, 2013, 10:48am

I don't do iAnything, so it wouldn't really matter, but I don't like it. I hate touchscreens (of course this wasn't something I was aware of until after using one for more than a couple minutes of playing), and find most things on "smartphones" are a waste. I'm sure the fact that I'm not one of those attached 24/7 to the phone types also comes into play. I use it for a few sites while on vacation if there's free wifi, and otherwise no more than a couple texts and maybe one or two calls (per month) between my husband and I (our bill is rarely over €1). I very much want to go back to a nice 12-button does everything I want, no fuss, phone. I tried out the fancy ones for once, and I've had enough. I was so glad with my cheapass dinky pre-pay Cricket phone for the week I was visiting back Stateside, and have been wanting a plain normal one since, lol.

dec 7, 2013, 10:52am

Perhaps my frugality is keeping me with only one foot in the Circle. My mobile phone is a dumb one, but only because I'm too cheap to pay for a data plan.

dec 7, 2013, 10:56am

We have a post-paid -pay what you use- plan. So we pay more per ...action? than other sorts, but since we barely use them, we save a ton. I can't believe how much people will pay for their unlimited everything plans for their phones!!

dec 7, 2013, 11:09am

This won't make me give up my iPhone but that's 1 app I will not be downloading.

dec 7, 2013, 2:10pm

Here's a shot of the books being read in a book club for Twitter employees:

dec 7, 2013, 7:49pm

Seeing circles everywhere! So much of networked tech these days is about data-gathering and mining and reselling.

I do think the novel missed out on the government's interest in exploiting all this data. The Circle renders congresspeople helpless, then takes over voting, etc. It is more powerful than the state. What we're seeing now is a kind of vast mirrorsite for corporate data collection that is bigger than any social network data trove. Of course, the state and corporations are deeply entangled (and Edward Snowden was not a civil servant, but a corporate employee with a contract to do technical work for the state), but there seems to be some outrage at this point that the state is doing things like tapping undersea cables to suck data out of the pipeline and exploit data compiled by any number of corporations (though how much outrage is real and how much for show is never clear to me).

i did wonder, reading the book, what Eggers is thinking about the NSA leaks.

dec 8, 2013, 7:19pm

I wondered the same thing since the book would have gone to press about the same time that the Edward Snowden story broke.

dec 15, 2013, 12:07am

Some hope:

Teens aren’t abandoning “social.” They’re just using the word correctly.
"You see, we’ve come to define “social” in unintentional Orwellian double-speak. “Social” has come to mean the exact opposite of what it’s meant for centuries. Instead of actual interaction and communication, we define “social” as once- or twice-removed ego validation through button-clicking.

“Social” is what happens when someone posts personal information—photos, thoughts, announcements, favorite songs, jokes—on the internet and another person comes along and clicks a thumbs up icon or a star or a heart. If someone’s really “social,” they’ll even type a comment or reply.

Kids aren’t leaving social networks. They’re redefining the word “social.” Rather, they’re actually using the word with the intent of its original meaning: making contact with other human beings. Communicating. Back-and-forth, fairly immediate dialogue. Most of it digitally. But most of it with the intent of a conversation where two (or more) people are exchanging information and emotion. Not posting it. Exchanging it."

dec 18, 2013, 3:47pm

9 Everyday Items We Never Want to Have Connected to the Internet . . . .

Redigeret: dec 19, 2013, 12:32pm

Google’s Location History Browser Is A Minute-By-Minute Map Of Your Life

Want creepy? Here's creepy. LibraryThing employees all use a company Google account, with Gmail, calendars, etc. We got them way back when Google started allowing Gmail for non-Google domains; it's very handy. As you might expect, we can add new employees, delete old ones, change passwords and get into accounts. In theory, therefore, Abby and I (at least) can have a minute-by-minute account of where all our employees are.* Have any made any unexplained visits to another employer? Were they really sick on that sick day? Too much time at the bar? Visits to the marijuana dispensary? A nude bar? Affair?

*This depends upon what Google apps they have, and whether they've granted permission. I appear not to have any Google location data, which is odd considering I use their maps app. Also, most employees have iPhones, and we don't pay for any Google phones. We might do that in the future, however. After all, if we paid for every employee to have an Android phone, we'd be able to track them…

dec 19, 2013, 12:46pm

We get some very boring data from me when testing our LTFL android apps on various Android devices. Apparently I never leave my house. Which isn't too far from the truth. The data is spotty since I use my iPhone as my day-to-day device. I occasionally will read on the Nexus mini tablet (when my iPad is charging).

As for the greater question, I think this is a bit creepy. Most people don't know that when they turn on "Use my location" that the company is not only USING the location for the transient API calls, but also STORING that information forever.

dec 19, 2013, 2:29pm

It's also creepy because Google isn't truly bound by what you say. Their terms may or may not say they can't share it. But they can change their terms any time they want. If we're going to have this be "add in," the button should allow them to do X and BIND THEM from doing Y.

dec 19, 2013, 2:39pm

The Dutch government wants to expand their electronic ID system, which you can use to file taxes and some other government related things, and was recently expanded to allow you to log-in to your health insurance, to also allow you to login to bank sites.

The EU is also talking about requiring each country's eID system to be compatible with eachother, eventually.

The thing is, they talk it up as being more secure. But when you boil it down it's just a user/pass combo... I don't quite understand it all.

Redigeret: dec 19, 2013, 3:57pm

Well, I just bought a Moto X smartphone, and since Motorola was purchased by Google... This said, my apps are /supposed/ to use my personal Google profile and email address.

Redigeret: dec 19, 2013, 4:11pm

A site which exploits or simply channels the missing negative feedback loop on Facebook: hate. Another reason why teens are leaving Facebook? Generally, one shouldn't need an website to inform one of mutual resentment.

dec 19, 2013, 6:41pm

>116 JerryMmm: They've been talking about that for a while, haven't they?

dec 20, 2013, 2:35pm

And now we find that Facebook can monitor what we choose not to share. This Slate article makes an explicit link to The Circle.

dec 20, 2013, 2:37pm


dec 20, 2013, 4:49pm

Who needs dystopias when you can have the real thing? (Apparently we do, or we wouldn't be paying attention.)

dec 21, 2013, 1:13am

Have people followed the #hasJustineLandedYet thing. (Basically, a PR rep tweeted a stupid, racist joke and then got on a plane. She was toast—reviled across twitter and fired and removed from her company's staff page—before he landed and switched on her phone again.)


Obviously the tweet was stupid, unprofessional and racist. I'd have fired her too. (She worked in PR too!) But the scale and sharpness of the action—one woman plucked from obscurity becoming reviled by millions—is breathtaking. That's a lot of power directed at anyone, let alone some random person on Twitter.

dec 21, 2013, 4:15am

I don't know, fortunately the bigoted asses like that are in the minority and those kind of attitudes are really upsetting and infuriating. So when it gets noticed, people pounce. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, whether it's some random obscure jackass or someone "famous" shouldn't matter, it's just that the famous people have all those eyes on them already and are far more likely to be heard. It would be nice if every random bigot received this sort of response. The odds of them actually seeing the light from it are probably pretty slim, but at least they'd realize just how much the world sees it as unacceptable and would have to face consequences for it.

Redigeret: dec 21, 2013, 11:50am

>124 .Monkey.:

Yeah, I just disagree. People do unspeakable things—far worse things—all the time. They do things, rather than saying things. Often their local context reacts, and they get their just deserts. But as for the rest of the world, unless we install cameras in every home, we'll never know. Good.

This incident works—it spreads and spreads—because people like watching a car wreck. They enjoy watching someone get destroyed. That they can contribute in their small way heightens the thrill. And that they can sit ring-side at the delicious, gory mess while assuming the mantle of anti-racism? It's a orgy of self-righteous cruelty.

Life will go on. People will be beastly to each other as they always have. Sometimes they will do so on a medium that is usually semi-private but potentially global, and one time in a million the fickle, lazy eye of the internet meme will snatch them one up and rip them apart for our passing enjoyment.


dec 21, 2013, 11:47am

Oh there's certainly far worse things people can, and do, do. But I don't think that means smaller stuff should be allowed to slip through, just because there's worse out there.
I think for many people it's not the trainwreck, not when it comes to things like bigotry. Yeah, people like trainwrecks, that's why hideous "reality" TV is a thing and all, but people really are not tolerant of racism, especially with the tons of stuff that's been going on (more visibly) over the past year or two. Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman, rich white kids getting off free while blacks are accused of utterly absurd crimes, etc, so people are quick to jump on it and attempt to right wrongs where possible. Because we can't stop those with guns/power from abusing them, but we can possibly do something about admissions of racism in the cloud.

dec 21, 2013, 11:49am


Seems to me you are doing lots of assuming of your own about complete strangers. That they are merely "assuming the mantle of anti-racism" (as if it's impossible to be against racism sincerely), and that they are self-righteously cruel. If somebody were organising this woman's physical tarring and feathering, then I'd be concerned about cruelty. No, it's not nice to gloat. But being a racist idiot is worse.

She shouted in a public auditorium, the auditorium shouted back. Considering her job, it's not surprising there were repercussions. At least she doesn't seem to be in any danger of material poverty.

dec 21, 2013, 11:58am

I have felt this way when in a crowd of people. Even if I'm in that crowd because I agree with whatever we're assembling for, the sheer power of it over my own feelings and actions is scary. I suppose it's similar at a sports event, when a win or a loss could turn into crowd violence. There's something about being part of a mass of people that makes it hard to feel as if you have free will.

In The Circle, wanting to reserve one's free will is counter to the "we do everything in the open and together" ethos. Coupled with transparency is an insistence on conformity, on belonging, on joining in. It feels good to be part of the crowd, even when it becomes a pack attacking something. It's validating. Other people are like me; I am part of something bigger than me. I have somehow grown in stature by being part of this group.

The scale and the speed of responding to something has been amplified by social media. It can alert people to a problem or help them share information (as in the response to the earthquake in Haiti). It can also spread misinformation much faster than in the past. And it can become a human wave of disapproval that breaks over someone who did something stupid in public. I agree that the power - in part because it scales up so quickly - is pretty breathtaking and not a little disturbing.

dec 21, 2013, 12:03pm

>127 LolaWalser: "She shouted in a public auditorium, the auditorium shouted back" - that's a terrific phrase. I think one of the weird things about the current era is that it's all a public auditorium that also feels weirdly intimate. It encourages intimacy and self-disclosure because the more you know, the more you can target adveritising.

When I've used public writing in classes it's partly to encourage thinking about public audiences. In school, the audience is usually your teacher. Now it can be anyone, but crafting writing for that vast an audience (which in reality hardly ever is paying attention) is an interesting rhetorical challenge. But it's a daily writing situation that we need to consider.

Redigeret: dec 21, 2013, 1:07pm

Right. This reminds me of an Iranian public hanging. The victims at such events are mostly guilty of terrible crimes, especially murder and rape. They deserve to be punished*. Sometimes its for a horrible reason, like being gay. But the cheering crowds are the same--an orgy of self-righteous cruelty.

Another tack: Consider your whole life. Consider the lives of the 100 people close to you. Picture every things you did and said laid out on a light table to be picked over by the world. Have you ever in your whole life said or done anything worse than this tweet? Have any of them? Seriously. Maybe you or someone you know suffered for their stupid or evil act. Justice is good, sometimes it even makes us better. But imagine that act somehow attracted this sort of attention. Do they—do you—deserve this?

I note that when you type Justine Sacco into Twitter it offers "justine sacco husband" as the first suggestion. The top tweet is:
The first thing that comes up when you search for "Justine Sacco" is "Justine Sacco husband." Cause it was all about calling out racism.
Glad someone noticed. (By the way, it appears she doesn't have one.) The second is:
"Justine Sacco the kinda white woman you give AIDS to and let her find out by infecting her husband"
Has that guy landed yet? Would you like me to spend five minutes assembling 100 tweets as vile as Ms. Sacco's? I would be pretty easy. But something about them won't stick. The eye passed over them. They're in the audience cheering, not on the gallows.

She shouted in a public auditorium, the auditorium shouted back

I guess we disagree there. The internet is a graveyard of analogies from the real world. That said, for most people--and Justine Sacco had 400 followers--Twitter is more like saying something on the street. In theory it's public, but most of the time only the people around you notice what you said, and not one person in 1 million finds something they say casually on the street taken up and shown to hundreds of millions.

*I am against capital punishment, but they deserve to be punished.

dec 21, 2013, 4:05pm


So now you are saying that the hue and cry on Twitter is like a public hanging?

Consider your own self-righteousness, Zorro.

Justine Sacco had 400 followers--Twitter is more like saying something on the street. In theory it's public, but most of the time only the people around you notice what you said, and not one person in 1 million finds something they say casually on the street taken up and shown to hundreds of millions.

I'm not on Twitter, your post brought this to my attention. So, you've done your bit to disseminate knowledge about this incident and make me aware that this woman is a racist, and probably a very stupid person even apart from her racism. Which may not be practically useful to me but clearly could be useful to any number of people she may deal with.

If you don't like analogies, don't make them. Verbal thrashing isn't "hanging". Twitter isn't a "street". Four hundred followers isn't a cozy brunch party, and they aren't sitting behind closed doors either. Any place on the internet can get hit by a spotlight any time, the nature of the beast amplifies the effect, and this is what happened here.

I don't doubt you can find more vileness on the internet, the question is, what's your point? That nobody deserves criticism unless EVERYONE who deserves it gets criticised? I don't know, open a Tumblr account and get busy, you got the makings of a dandy social justice blog there.

dec 22, 2013, 12:45am

All of this makes me glad that I am not a user of Twitter or Facebook. And I turned off the location part of my iPad because I don't need to locate things,, or have myself or my machines located. I know how to read a paper map. But now I have to find paper maps!

dec 29, 2013, 4:48pm

NYT: "Is the Internet a Mob Without Consequence?"
by Nick Bilton
Mobs that start with a small spark and erupt in chaos have existed for centuries. As John Mullan, a professor of English at the University College London, noted in a lengthy piece about the history of mobs, in the past it was often the poor who rallied against the rich and powerful.

But today’s riots are different in that it is the powerful, specifically those with the largest followings online, that could help quell these eruptions, yet instead douse them with more anger and hate.

Those not piling on with hate ended up egging on the others by treating the entire experience as if it were a reality TV show. Or a joke. Anyone who tried remotely to defend Ms. Sacco was then attacked, too.

In the eyes of the mob, there was justice.

Yet the people who threatened to rape and murder Ms. Sacco, who attacked her family and friends, aren’t held in contempt or fired from their jobs.

dec 29, 2013, 7:34pm

"Yet the people who threatened to rape and murder Ms. Sacco, who attacked her family and friends, aren’t held in contempt or fired from their jobs."

Is that also true in Europe? My impression is that "hate speech" is taken more seriously there. Does that apply to the internet?

dec 29, 2013, 7:39pm

Hate speech generally requires some sort of attack on ascriptive characteristics—that Ms. Sacco should be raped because she's Jewish, or whatever. (Note: I have no idea if she's Jewish.)

dec 29, 2013, 7:45pm

So that is partly my question. In Europe, does speech have to have a racial or religious aspect to it to be illegal. Certainly, if the person on the internet saying these things lived close to you (in the same town? state? country?) you would have cause to go to the police. Not that I like what she said. It was a cruel and stupid thing to say, but the threats have gotten out of hand.

Redigeret: dec 29, 2013, 8:59pm

dec 30, 2013, 7:37am

>134 krazy4katz:/6 I don't think it's "hate speech" anywhere in the world. What it is, is threats. However, since it's pretty obvious that they're empty threats from idiots just mouthing off stupidly, I don't think there is any police force that would use their limited time & resources to investigate it. Not unless any of them went further and continued to stalk/harass her, at that point they would be sought out for harassment and she could get restraining orders etc. But women on the internet get that kind of reaction rather often. Those who post anything feminist or controversial that gets any kind of notice, get bombarded with that kind of vile threatening crap.

dec 30, 2013, 11:20am

I'm getting the impression that some would love it if something did happen to that idiot--just so they could say, there, told ya, Internet mobs kill! Anti-racists are WORSE than racists!

Those who post anything feminist or controversial that gets any kind of notice, get bombarded with that kind of vile threatening crap.

Just "posting while female" is enough. Men don't seem to get rape threats as often.

Redigeret: dec 30, 2013, 11:47am

Anti-racists are WORSE than racists!

It's a question of scale. Also, threatening people with death, rape and etc.--not to mention their families, etc.--is worse than a racist joke.

dec 30, 2013, 11:59am


So, you're not paying ANY attention to what sort of people would behave in this way? It's all just grist to your anti-liberal mill.

I had once an upstanding conservative citizen tell me--on the Internet, in Salon's talk--that he'd like to see me swinging from a lamppost. That's what you and your sort are like, obviously.

dec 30, 2013, 12:06pm

>140 timspalding:

What sort of people would behave in this way? Which way? The mob is a mob of the righteous, racially oppressed?

Incidentally, I don't really see where liberals or conservatives get into this. Ms. Sacco is not a conservative. I see no evidence the Huffpost and NYT writers are conservatives. It seems to me you're the one introducing the notion. Is it comforting to put that which you don't like into boxes with other things you don't like?

dec 30, 2013, 12:28pm


Is it a "mob" of "anti-racists" who are threatening her with rape, or is it a bunch of morons--a small minority within the responses to her tweet--beneath anyone's contempt?

Is it comforting to put that which you don't like into boxes with other things you don't like?

Too rich! A delicate constitution could OD on the irony!

jan 20, 2014, 10:43pm

A must-read:

GigaOm: "You don’t want your privacy: Disney and the meat space data race"

The article is great overall. Disney is showing us what can be done, and it's scary. But some of the stuff at the end is scary now:
"I recently installed a flashlight app on my phone. In exchange for this app that does no more than turn on my phone’s camera flash, I give it my geolocation all day long. Who owns this app? No idea. Probably some Ukranians. What I do know is that this app is worth like $5 to me, and yet that was enough to give these strangers all my info.

Same with Angry Birds (tracks location). Same with LinkedIn (can read AND WRITE my phone call data, can read my “calendar events plus confidential information”, etc.). Same with the freaking Shazam app that let’s me identify that song playing in the mall. Have you heard of Stylitics? …

We’re all wringing our hands over the NSA, and meanwhile we’re handing our data as fast as we can to other entities for next to nothing. If the NSA were smart, it would buy Candy Crush Saga, change the permissions, and be done with it."

jan 21, 2014, 2:23pm

I think a lot of our willingness to freely give up personal information depends on whether the offer is all dressed up in a pretty package with a bow. NSA - hell no. Free or cheap app - sure, why not?

Redigeret: jan 28, 2014, 2:26am

Here's another great one for "Everything must be known."

Opera Singer Can't Stop Farting After Surgery, Loses Job

See also HuffPost, NYPost, UK Independent, io9, and a million copycats of the repurposers.

So, to review:

1. Woman suffers a dangerous, humiliating and disabling medical mistake.
2. Woman sues hospital for it.
3. Lawsuits are public as a matter of government
4. Local paper (?) picks it up and writes a sober, local-interest story.
5. Gawker, Huffpost pick it up for laughs, and it acquires massive viral fame. She farts through her VAGINA—bwahahahaha!
6. For a few weeks, a woman will have the state of her vagina and asshole laughed at across the web.
7. For the rest of her life, anyone Googling the woman will rapidly discover the state of her vagina and asshole.
8. Gawker and the rest did nothing useful, and they make a killing.

And here's what I find most gross: normal, morally adjusted people I know share the story and laugh about it on social media. Then, squirrel-brained, it's off to the next thing.

jan 28, 2014, 9:43am

That's what I find most gross as well. I know the media can be a bunch of exploitative jerks, but I expect better from my friends.

jan 29, 2014, 4:17am

Yeah that kind of stuff is terrible. But then, "major news" sources like CNN post breaking news like how much that little twit Beiber's bond is and crap, so... :|

jan 29, 2014, 11:15am

I saw that "breaking news" about Beiber. Pathetic. It seems like half the local news is just the announcers reading Tweets and what has been posted on Facebook. I want news when I watch the news - not celebrity gossip.

Lazy journalism.

feb 8, 2014, 12:50pm

Here's a tie-in from a non-fiction Early Reviewer book I'm just finishing. In Uncharted, the authors note that “the Internet has been redefining privacy norms from the beginning, inducing people to broadcast an ever-increasing amount of personal information” (p. 178). They consider “life logging”, round the clock recording of ones experiences, where “every sensory experience, every beat of our heart, every rumble in our stomach, and even every thought that crosses or mind—all these are in principle loggeable” (180). A real-life case study is presented which parallels the situation in The Circle. In The Circle, people go “transparent” e.g., have their lives monitored and recorded during all the hours that they are awake. The real-life case alluded to in Uncharted involved a 3-year old who is the subject of an NSF sponsored language acquisition study where “every step he takes, every noise he makes, every sound he hears, and every sight he sees—all of it is recorded for the benefit of science” (177). The scenario was first raised in Uncharted to point out how much physical storage space all the digital data takes up from these recordings (similar to the point made when Mae is introduced to the catacombs in The Circle). But the case is revisited in the final section of Uncharted to address the ethics of “life-logging.”

feb 8, 2014, 12:52pm

> 150 Hm, wrong Uncharted. I'm referring to the one by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel.

feb 8, 2014, 1:06pm

This Uncharted.

feb 25, 2014, 8:13am

"With digital cameras and camera phones everywhere, there are few moments we don't document. But some designers still think we're missing the opportunity to capture some important, simple moments. The solution: the Narrative Clip, a wearable camera that automatically and silently snaps an image every 30 seconds."
"The Narrative Clip is a lightweight square only a smidge larger than a postage stamp. A tiny lens is in the corner, capable of shooting 5-megapixel images. You clip it to your lapel and it starts shooting two photos a minute. Later, you can simply connect it to your computer to store the photo stream. A Narrative app then organizes what it thinks are the best shots of the day."

feb 25, 2014, 8:18am

Best shots of the day?! How in hell is it going to determine that‽ Not to mention the whole "tiny" lens clearly meant to remain rather innocuous and shooting everyone you come in contact with. No, that's not remotely disturbing. :&

feb 25, 2014, 9:37am

#153 -- That's super creepy, especially for someone like me who hates being photographed. If this becomes a common thing, will it be a breach of etiquette to reach out and put your hand over the lapel camera of the person you're talking to during a conversation so you can not appear in their photos? I am only half joking.

feb 25, 2014, 10:37am

Hah. Yeah, that would be cause for me to be a hermit even more than I already am.

feb 25, 2014, 10:44am

Yes, I would HATE that. I know that I am being videoed in public places, but unless someone commits a crime in the time frame I'm being photographed, it is highly unlikely anyone will ever see or care about my photos. But to be talking to someone privately and being taped -- NO!!! I may have to become a hermit.

I hate being photographed at the best of times. In my mind, I'm a gorgeous 30-year old, but for some reason, the photographs all show some old lady well past her prime, and who likely never was gorgeous. (Maybe this post belongs in the Dorian Gray thread.)

feb 25, 2014, 11:01am

Whatever happened to the rule that mobile cameras need an unsilenceable photo noise? I remember some state putting that into law, so people weren't using their cellphones to take pictures in locker rooms. But it would severely curtail misuse of Google Glass and other such technologies if every time you took a picture it when "BEEEEEEP!" for all to hear.

feb 25, 2014, 12:30pm

Yuck. I hate the idea of Google glasses and this seems even worse. Of course it might be good for those people with no short term memory, but that is a very small group. I am thinking of the movie Memento here. Those people should have to wear some kind of medical bracelet warning people of their intentions.

feb 25, 2014, 12:31pm

Personally, I would LOVE to have a record of what I heard and saw all day every day. It would perhaps be nice if we could have such systems, but—somehow—they could only be viewed by you…

feb 25, 2014, 1:11pm

Constant observation is already being used by law enforcement:

Essentially, this plane operates like a permanent satellite in synchronous orbit, taking photo on photo of the entire city. The broadcast caught my interest because of how low-tech the enterprise seemed--airplanes and cameras? Law enforcement successfully tracked criminal activity before and after crimes have been committed in Dayton, Ohio, so cities might be seeing a little observant speck above them any time now.

feb 12, 2015, 5:03pm

New York Times: How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life

feb 18, 2015, 6:11pm

>162 timspalding: Very disturbing article and I don't know what the solution is to prevent lives being ruined by something innocuous as a stupid joke! I wonder if the woman who tweeted the misogynist joke she felt inappropriate feels guilty at all? Especially when she subsequently lost her job after the backlash she received. I feel both employers overreacted, but the internet pile is a horrible thing...I'm sure there are lots of jokes I'd find offensive or said in the wrong environment, but should we judge anyone based on one inane comment?

feb 18, 2015, 7:46pm

>163 wifilibrarian: I imagine the employers did what they did in order to avoid an Internet pile-on on themselves.