This is written in response to the release of the film The Circle and the New Yorker essay on vanlife.
The Circle, released today is based off of the 2013 Dave Eggers novel of the same name. The Circle is a social media company striving to gain all the information about all of its users under the koan like mantra “secrets are lies, sharing is caring, privacy is theft.” There are some behavioral undertones to this that people behave better when they are being observed (and know that they are being observed). However, for privacy advocates there is much to concern about how the information is being used. The trailers show the creepy quote from Tom Hanks that “we (the company) care about who you care about.” It’s meant to sound positive, but family members can also be held against one another- by which I’m considering police states like the USSR or North Korea which silence dissidents by threatening family members.
Which does not define the US. But this data collection should make people concerned. It is my hope that the film will ignite a conversation in the collective consciousness to reconsider how much information they share. And this is a great time to do so considering that data privacy has been in the news and the legislature recently.
As this relates to Vanlife as portrayed in the New Yorker article by Rachel Monroe, social media is both the product and the means by which data collection and the goods (the people) are sustained. I’ll be clear that I’m skeptical of the underlying vanity which fuels much social media activity and certainly those who follow van life posts as though “projecting their fantasies” onto the itinerant. In the case of those few van dwellers who receive sponsorships sharing every detail of their lifestyle provides sustainment. It sounds tempting that one could live the way they want to live and be paid for it, but I think those who do so should be cautious of how what viewers expect and want might impact how they actually live their life. Monroe points out the way in which some of the sponsors for van dwellers wanted to tightly control when and what kind of posts were made on their behalf, thus shaping the narrative. This seems like a contradiction of the off-the-grid mantra van dwellers promote.
The titular company in the film and book has obvious parallels to Alphabet and Facebook. The sleek offices filled with millennials, the charismatic leader, and the direction they point is that the information gathered does not begin but becomes intrusive as users take such observation as part of the status quo.
I haven’t seen the film yet, though I read the novel when it was first released. It was good and more big picture thought provoking than Eggers’ other works. I preferred the earlier ones because they were far more explosively creative whereas The Circle is far more straightforward as a narrative. Hopefully the all-star cast will help bring these ideas into greater awareness. These forces do not have to be evil, they can remain value neutral, but consumers need to be aware of how their preferences may be coerced by nature of observation. It’s more than silly vanity, it’s a dangerous surrendering of self.