The Circle by Dave Eggers is only a little about privacy. Sure, there’s the whole bit about “Privacy is Theft,” but that is not what terrified me. I think privacy is a technology problem that will end up with a technology solution. What bothered me most about the books was how information and attention were used for

The book had a classic plot arc. Stranger arrives in strange land, experiences wonder, confusion, and fear. Does stuff wrong. Then figures out how to do it better than anyone, and wins the admiration of all. There is a big dilemma toward the end. And the choice is made to the satisfaction of some, and the despair of others.

So the story is familiar and almost comforting. Except that the strange land is uncomfortably, not so strange.

The Circle is a tech-social-data-development-change-the-world kind of place. Its big break was TruYou, which authenticated your identity, then created a single account for everything — banking, credit cards, shopping, social media, search, games, work, communications. You had to use your real name, and then you never had to remember a password, sign-in, or account number again. This, of course, gave the Circle big, fat, juicy data-profiles of everyone, that they sold to advertisers. For starters.

The senior Circlers all seemed to have pet projects to right some personal wrong, which resulted in chips being attached to children so they would never be kidnapped, and little cameras being installed all over the world to prevent crime, and hold evil despots accountable for killing innocent protesters. The cameras also allowed the poor, disabled, and elderly to vicariously enjoy kayaking, deep sea-diving, skiing, and sunsets in Belize.

Seems legit.

Except pretty soon, the goal was to coerce everyone into becoming “transparent,” where you wear a camera on your chest and broadcast live everything you do all the time. Well, you could go dark for a couple minutes in the bathroom, and it was optional after 10 pm.  As more people went transparent, it became a little difficult to follow people, because everyone was too busy broadcasting their own lives. But since nothing could ever be deleted, they could always go back and review the recording.

Things could have gone completely meta very quickly. But they didn’t, because everyone was too busy thinking about the next thing they want to say and do for their followers. The rest of the time, they were reading the instant feedback of comments, zings, and ratings. Everyone in the Circle, which was pretty much everyone, was ranked minute by minute on their online interactions.

Pretty soon, people started bartering attention, because, well, that was the most valuable thing in a world of constant broadcast and feedback. I’ll watch yours if you watch mine.

And then people started doing things just to get attention, stupid things. Then those things became uninteresting. Then people only did things that got attention and positive feedback. And pretty soon, the band of acceptable behavior became narrower. People who went outside the band were shunned and humiliated — immediately and ruthlessly.

Friendships, relationships and actual in-person communications were for show. Sex was just a physical transaction. One guy demanded that his sexual performance be rated on a scale of 1 to 100. His partner gave him a 100 every time so she didn’t have to talk about how awful it was. She kept coming back because it was better than nothing.

The Circle became a cult, but without a charismatic leader. Instead, the laws and rules were created entirely through peer-pressure and based on self-centeredness and self-absorption. It was a planet-wide culture of egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.

There was no love anywhere in the book. And everyone was too busy broadcasting, and following, and commenting to have an original thought.

Now, that is terrifying.

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HRExaminer Radio: Episode #40: Allen Sockwell

John Sumser interviews Allen R. Sockwell, President of Sockwell Performance Advisors.