What would happen if everyone was connected via social media? What if all their information was public? What if there were cameras literally everywhere to make sure that any and every experience was accessible to all? What if people voluntarily agreed to this world because a slick talking ceo convinced them it was better? These are just some of the questions raised by “The Circle.”
While many critics didn’t like “The Circle,” I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I think some of those issues came from the marketing of this movie, as the film isn’t really worthy of the title “gripping thriller” that it claimed. “Thought-provoking drama” is more appropriate. The story starts when Mae (Emma Watson) gets a job at “The Circle,” which is like the love child of Apple and Facebook.
It’s unclear exactly what year the story takes place in, though the technology of the Circle is certainly more advanced than what similar companies are using now. As Mae continues to work there she gets more and more entrenched in the borderline cult of the Circle and eventually becomes its poster girl, wearing a camera 24/7 to lead the most transparent life possible.
Part of the genius of the movie is that it walks a very fine line between dystopian future and reality. It’s not like “The Giver” or the “Hunger Games” where it’s easy for viewers to write off the story as pure fiction that only exists as entertainment. “The Circle” is really not THAT far off from the world we live in today. The rhetoric of the Circle’s ceo, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) isn’t that far off from the rhetoric of actual tech companies. He dreams of a day when the entire world can be connected. He uses buzzwords like “transparency” and “openness.” The movie serves as a case study in how a smooth talker can convince a population to willfully adopt a world without privacy.
One of the most chilling scenes for me as a libertarian was one where Mae describes the experience of kayaking by herself in an interview with Eamon. She describes the wonderful sights she saw and Eamon explains that because his son was disabled he would never be able to have that experience. He implied that it was somehow selfish of Mae to deprive others of of her joyous experiences, and that every person has the RIGHT (yes, they use the word “right”) to the entirety of human experience.
When we loosen up the definition of “rights” to the point where we basically say “everyone should be able to have all things” there are going to be consequences. “The Circle” helps us see those consequences. We see private moments made public. We see how the public can misinterpret social media posts and destroy people’s lives based on a false impression. This poses an interesting dilemma for libertarians: on the one hand we want to respect the choices of the consumer, but what do we do when those choices conflict with other libertarian values, such as a lack of privacy?
As the film progresses, it becomes even more alarming when the Circle starts conspiring to involve government in their plans. Mae proposes the idea of using Circle accounts for voting. She uses something that seems like a worthy goal, 100 percent voter participation, and segues it into “the government should require all citizens to subscribe to our service.” This is when big business gets especially dangerous: when it works in cahoots with the government.
The lesson to be learned here is that businesses can make our lives more convenient, but that convenience can come with unintended consequences. Consumers need to be more cognizant of the choices they’re making and what those choices might lead to, especially when business and government start working together.