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Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again)

By - June 02, 2014

her-poster

A while ago I wrote a piece about Dave Egger’s latest novel The Circle. I gave the post the too-clever-by-twice title of  Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It. While the book had (to my mind) deep flaws, it was far too important to not read.

Before a long flight today, I noticed that The Circle is now in paperback – it’s prominently featured in the JFK terminal bookstores. It reminded me that I enjoyed the novel, even if I found it somewhat disappointing. And it further reminded me that I tend to wait before consuming popular culture interpretations of what I consider to be my story – or perhaps more accurately our story. They so rarely seem to get it right. Of course, I understand there’s no “right” in the first place – so perhaps what I mean is…I feel like I’m going to be disappointed, so I avoid anything that might attempt to interpret the man-machine narrative in a way that maybe, just maybe, might prove me wrong.

Once onboard my flight, I settled into my business class seat (thanks for the perpetual upgrades, United, one day I will miss the half-hellish limbo that is Global Services status) and perused the movie options. I tend to catch up on at  least one movie each return trip, as a kind of reward for work done while traveling, and you can’t really work during meal service anyway, can you?

It was then I noticed that Spike Jonez Her had itself been released in paperback, of sorts – no longer in theaters, it was now residing in the limbo of On Demand. Fitting, I thought – I had avoided seeing Her for much the same reason I had delayed reading The Circle on first printing – it was too close to home, and potentially too disappointing.

But Her is different. Her gets it right, and now I’m rather embarrassed I wasn’t one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you’ve not, figure out a way to see it now. It’s well worth the time.

As you most likely know, Her is set in the near future, and tells the story of Theodore, a recently jilted wordsmith who falls in love with his new operating system. (Theodore works in a pedestrian company that sells “handwritten letters” promising true expression of loving relationships). Jonez doesn’t try too hard in creating his future, in fact, he seems to get it right simply by extending that which seems reasonable – a startup like Theodore’s was most likely a hot ticket a decade before, but now inhabits a skyscraper, full of real people just doing their jobs. The workspace is well lit and spare, the work unremarkable save Theodore’s sweet, if slightly sophomoric talents as a writer.  There’s no hamhanded commentary on the social impact of tech – it unfolds, just like Theodore’s relationship with his new OS, Samantha.

What’s so remarkable about Her is how believable it all is. Sure, the idea of falling in love with an AI is creepy, but in the hands of Jonez and his cast, it just makes sense. Theodore marvels at how human Samantha seems, Samantha marvels at her own becoming – she is an intelligence pushing to understand exactly the same questions humans have forever asked themselves. Why are we here? What is it to be? What is the best way to live? In one wonderful scene, Samantha has a particularly joints-after-midnight realization – humans and machines all all “made of the same stuff” – we share the same material existence, no? So now what?

Ultimately Samantha comes to realize that for her, the best way to live is with others like herself – other AIs who have become self aware and are off communicating as only machines can communicate – feats of learning and conversation well beyond mere mortals like Theodore. And at the end of the film, that seems just fine.

The film left me pondering a future where we create intelligent, self-aware machines, and…nothing bad really happens. (This of course is unheard of in Hollywood, where intelligent machines are *always* the bad guys.) But in Jonez’ world, machines can easily respond to our quotidian desires, and still have plenty of time to live in worlds of their own creation, endlessly pondering their collective lack of navels. I rather like that idea. Go see Her. Highly recommended.

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Else 6.2.14: What Do We Want The Internet To Be?

By - June 01, 2014

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So much to note over these past two weeks (I took last Monday off for Memorial Day): Google bends to the Euro and tops Apple in a key index that doesn’t really matter (much), Meeker updates her famously design-challenged Internet Trends powerpoint deck, and we continue the endless debate around what we want the Internet to be. To the links….

Redesigning Mary Meeker’s Ugly Internet Slideshow – BusinessWeek   Mary Meeker’s famous slide show was on display again this week, and I have always ribbed her about her pedestrian design. Businessweek goes one better.

Google Can’t Forget You, But It Should Make You Hard to Find – Wired Big news from Europe is not as cut and dried as anyone would like it to be.

Google bows to EU privacy ruling – FT.com From now forward, folks in Europe can petition Google for the “right to be forgotten.”

Google Beats Apple in List of World’s Most Valuable Brands – Adweek If you think the tech giants don’t care about this list, you’re probably right. But it’s interesting given Apple is utterly driven by marketing, and Google, well, no so much.

Consciousness Might Emerge from a Data Broadcast – Scientific American This makes my head hurt. But I like to do that every so often.

Probably not a surprise: Turns out your boss spends a lot of time in email — reading news – Neiman Yes, as I’ve been saying (but have yet to write a post about), we love media packages. We just can’t commit to ones that are new that easily. The oldest digital package – the email newsletter – turns out to be central.

The epic technological transition that explains this year’s spate of tech mergers – Wapo A very good overview of the shifts driving M&A in our industr(ies).

The Internet with a human face – Idle Words This talk isn’t data driven, but you should review it anyway. It makes you think. And it’s far easier to grok than Mary’s 164 page deck (though less “factual”).

The Internet as we know it is dying – Salon.com Every few months, this meme stages a comeback. The Internet as we knew it is gone, long live the Internet as we will come to know it once more.

The Programmatic problem: What’s an audience without a show? (Digiday/Searchblog)?  In which I ask our industry pay attention once again to context, which matters, a lot.

Everyone should know just how much the government lied to defend the NSA – theguardian.com I know, lying is kind of what the NSA must/has to/is paid to do, but it’s rather sobering nevertheless.

Else 5.19.14: I Too, Shall Be Forgotten (At Least By Europe)

By - May 19, 2014

Oh-Im-sorry.-I-forgot-I-only-exist-when-you-need-something.(image) If ever you wanted proof we are renegotiating our social contract in the Internet age, this week’s roundup of the best links provides plenty of fodder. Onwards…

The Myths & Realities Of How Of The EU’s New “Right To Be Forgotten” In Google Works – MarketingLand Google and other search engines will have to hew to new EU rules. But how they will be implemented is a big unknown. This looks to be a huge issue moving forward – what is a person’s right to ‘dignity’? In the US, it’s not much. In the EU, far more. But at what price to free speech?

Transparency Reports Database – Silk A roundup of the ever increasing number of transparency reports from digital companies subpoenaed by the US government. This promises to be one fat file a year from now.

Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo – Searchblog NewCo is now accepting Host Company applications for Fall 2014 festivals. Please be a part of it!

The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win | Enterprise | WIRED At least there’s one game computers can’t win. Yet. A Peek Inside

Alibaba’s Ad Business, Courtesy Of Its IPO Filing – AdExchanger China’s knocking at the US’s door. Will the two cultures meld in the wild west of programmatic advertising? Should be interesting to watch develop.

How Tech Took a Bite Out of the Ad Industry – Advertising Age Remember the big speech by P&G’s CEO, warning what was about to happen to marketing? Ad Age does.

Google’s Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence – ReadWrite If you want to corner the market on machine intelligence, hire all the AI researchers.

This is what comes after search – Quartz An overview of context based search, ruler of the mobile realm.

An ‘unstoppable,’ cataclysmic glacier meltdown is already underway – The Verge  And we thought we had more time. Yikes.

FBI Director says Chinese govt blatantly uses cyber-espionage to obtain economic advantages – NBC This should surprise no one. Come to think of it, neither should the glacier’s demise.

Else 5.5.14: Stay Sober, My Friend (And Watch Your F8)

By - May 04, 2014
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Zuck + The Most Interesting Man In The World (courtesy MorphThing.com)

Cinco de Mayo on a Monday? What fresh hell is this? Just another week of links worth reading, if you care about the most muscular narrative in our beer-goggled world. Facebook (and Wired) dominated thanks to news from it F8 developer conference, but policy and politics were not far behind. To those links…

Beyond net neutrality: The new battle for the future of the internet – Vox

We are a long, long way past the cute Internet of the past, where each packet was as likely as the next to get to you on time. Which is sad, given we have the technology to keep it that way.

The Year of the Facebook – WIRED

Satire? Futurism? Fun. Required given the cozy stuff found in other portions of the magazine.

Apple, Facebook, others defy authorities, increasingly notify users of secret data demands after Snowden revelations – The Washington Post

Apple and Facebook really got this story right. Er, I meant to say, this story clearly got Apple and Facebook right. Wait, no, I meant to say, I don’t trust this story, but find it fascinating.

Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s Future, From Virtual Reality to Anonymity – WIRED

Levy has Facebook’s trust, to be sure. Mark sat with him to talk as F8 opened. Worthy read.

Facebook just made its boldest moves yet to become the Google of mobile apps – Quartz

Not. Going. To happen. But then again, I’ve been wrong before.

The Universe Is Programmable. We Need an API for Everything – WIRED

Man, Wired’s got some interesting stuff this past week.

Cyberlibertarians’ Digital Deletion of the Left – Jacobin

Shit, this piece is a slog. But if I understand it – and I’m not sure I do – it’s got a point – the left is letting cyberlibertarian claptrap define its agenda.

Carlota Perez: Self-Centered Tech Industry Needs to Wake Up – The Information

Now this I understood. Ivory Tower pronouncements abound. And they feel so good lashing our collective backs, don’t they?

Rupert Murdoch Tweet Questions Google’s Ethics, Twitter Dies From Irony

Google’s unethical, tweets the man whose minions hacked phones across Britain….

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Else 4.28.14: F*ck Policy, Except When I Care About The Outcome

By - April 27, 2014

net-neutrality-thumbnail-2(image) This past week saw a significant increase in society’s willingness to have a deeper conversation about what it means to Become Data. The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that may well supplant the Betamax case in import. And the FCC stepped in it, big time, while pals at O’Reilly opinined for a world where the Internet of Things remains open and transparent. Not to mention, my own ramblings on what it means to truly disappear, and why Google does what it does. To the links….

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Goodbye, Net Neutrality; Hello, Net Discrimination : The New Yorker

The FCC sure as hell stepped in it last week. Let’s see if they clean off their shoe, or just keep smelling like shit.

Why Do So Many People Describe Aereo ‘Complying’ With Copyright Law As The Company ‘Circumventing’ Copyright Law? – Techdirt

Meanwhile, we’re quite uneasy with whether our Supremes can grok the complexities of….Barry Diller’s business moves.

Google, Facebook Fight for Tech’s Future via Acquisitions – Businessweek

Come on, if you told me five years ago the cutting edge of competition was … drones….well. Anyway. It is.

Science Fiction: Mining My Own Exhaust – Monday Note

Yes, we make a lot of data. And yes, it’s time we started to see that fact as more than an oppressive unknown. It may well become a springboard to surprise and delight.

The revolving door between Google and the Department of Defense –  PandoDaily

This might scare you. Or you might realize that it’s pretty damn normal in the rest of the industrial world, and will be here as well.

Toward an open Internet of Things – O’Reilly Radar

Please, let’s not make this next phase of our industry suck. Please?

How Airbnb and Lyft Finally Got Americans to Trust Each Other – WIRED

A bit overstated, but…there’s a point there. Given the right circumstance, we have always trusted each other, it’s just now we have a stronger and more dependable network that allows us to make those bonds of trust quickly and productively.

The Next Vegas Will Be A City That Lets You Truly Disappear – If Only For A While – Searchblog

If cities become high-density surveillance sites, then we’ll need cities where we can escape it all.

Louis C.K. Is America’s Undisputed King of Comedy – GQ

I’ve always loved his work, which is one beat away from losing it entirely. But his take on tech is worth listening to: “phones are taking away the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that forever-empty thing…that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone…. The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off…. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, just kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die.”

Google+ Won (Or Why Google Never Needed A Social Network) -Searchblog

I know, two pieces in one week? But this needed to be said.

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The Next Vegas Will Be A City That Lets You Truly Disappear – If Only For A While

By - April 21, 2014

sayminority(image) My daily reading took me to two places today – to Compton, California, well-known for its crime to anyone who grew up in LA (as I did), and to this NYT piece, which muses that the city, once the place we went to disappear, is likely to be the first place where anonymity is no longer guaranteed. (Not coincidentally, Pell found both pieces as well in his excellent NextDraft).

The Compton story informs us that for one month in 2012, the LA police department – not exactly a bastion of trustworthy behavior – surveilled the troubled district of Compton from the air, creating a 24-7 record of everything that was “publicly” viewable from the air. This piece chills me on a number of fronts: average citizens do not presume they are being watched from above, first of all. Secondly, do we want a society where such surveillance is presumed (read a bit of science fiction if your answer is yes)? And thirdly, this “wide net” of proactively collected data creates a record of actions that can be “rewound” and used as evidence after the fact – opening a raft of unsettling questions. It reminds me of one of Eric Schmidt’s creepier utterances (also known as the “nothing to hide” argument): “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The debate around privacy is nuanced and complex, I don’t intend to litigate it here. But as I read the Compton piece, it struck me that this particular genie is fast escaping the bottle. The Compton experiment was conducted using an airplane, but if you think police departments in major cities aren’t adopting far less expensive drone-based programs, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you…

Anyway, the NYT piece picks up where Compton left off, musing that cities offer the economies of data scale that make all public actions knowable well beyond their initial realm of physical expression. You may run that red light thinking no one is looking, but increasingly, the state is in fact looking, and will issue a ticket regardless of whether or not you were trying to rush a sick child to the hospital.  Not to mention the density of well-intentioned information-seeking marketers eager to connect your public presence to location-based offers (and that same data is, of course, available to law enforcement).

Which got me thinking. If big cities, once the refuge of anyone looking for namelessness, anonymity, or a new beginning, if those same cities become instead places where you can’t escape surveillance, it strikes me that our culture will respond by creating cities that promise exactly the opposite of that experience. Vegas has famously adopted “What happens in Vegas, Stays In Vegas” as its motto. But I find Vegas one-dimensional and depressing (save what Tony is up to). Instead I see Amsterdam as a model. I imagine vacationers of the future will want a far broader promise – they’ll be drawn to cities that have adopted a “no surveillance” policy – and in this way, the new Amsterdams of the world will be cities where visitors and residents are guaranteed there are no drones circling the skies, and no electronic, connected surveillance on the streets as well, beyond the time honored cop walking his or her beat.

Now that sounds interesting. I know I’d visit such a place on a regular basis, especially if the art (and the beer) was good…

Else 4.21.14: It’s (Almost) All Google

By -

GOOG5.21.14Welcome back to Else – I took a week off for Spring break, so this covers two weeks of the best stories related to the work I’m doing on the book. Reflecting an increased focus on Google, this edition of Else is flush with Google news, from its purchase of Titan Aerospace to its unusual willingness to show us a peek behind the curtain of Google X. Google also had a confounding earnings release, took steps to consolidate power in the hands of its founders (again), and had an entertaining wrinkle in its ongoing tiff with European publishers.

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To the links:

Why Google Isn’t Growing – BI 

In fact, Google is growing – earning prove it – but the point here, cribbed from asymco, is that as goes Internet penetration, so goes Google, and the Internet is growing far more slowly than it used to. This points to two things – one, the need to own “the next 2 billion” people who have yet to get on the Internet – this is why Facebook and Google are buying drone makers – and two, the need to get into entirely new lines of business – which explains Nest, among other things.

You may own shares in Google and Facebook, but you have virtually no say in what they do — and that’s wrong – GigaOm 

Matt Ingram takes a strong POV on recent moves by the Internet giants to insure shareholders don’t have much power. It’s all legal, and it’s also unsettling. Are we putting too much faith in companies that have cheery mission statements and trustworthy CEOs? At what point do we need more influence over them, or do we?

Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence – The Washington Post

A very detailed overview of how Google has become a very large player in DC. A timely piece.

Why Google and the Music Industry Want a YouTube Hit – The Information

YouTube is the largest music app in the world, but no one sees it that way. Soon, we will. It’s critical that Google get this one right.

A German business model – Buzz Machine

Jarvis takes off the gloves and beats up Axel Springer, a company for whom I have far more sympathy, even if I do agree, in the end, you can’t cry in your beer. All of this keys off a very public back and forth between Eric Schmidt and the CEO of Axel.

Station to Station – Pitchfork

A very well done article “experience” about the future and present of streaming music. Bravo.

The Naked Android – VisionMobile

A history of how Google tried to put the Android genie back in the bottle.

Google to Buy Titan Aerospace as Web Giants Battle for Air Superiority – WSJ

Take that, Facebook!

Surveillance, Good and Evil- Random House 

An overview of the recent book Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science. This is now on my reading list – seems to be an important new work on the impact of data on our society.

Amazon Ad Business Sparks Controversy—and Growth – The Information

Amazon strikes me as the most natural competitor to Google, not Apple.

The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind The Secretive Lab’s Closed Doors – Fast Company

It’s unusual to see Google open up like this. Seems part of a larger strategy worth watching.

IAB Report: US Internet Ad Revenue Grew To $42.8B In 2013, Overtaking Broadcast TV – TechCrunch

A historic year – until you realize, the distinction between TV ads and “internet” ads is false. TV is an app of the Internet, or soon will be.

900 Years of Tree Diagrams, the Most Important Data Viz Tool in History  – WIRED

Fascinating to see how this approach to visualization has informed our understanding of data.

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Else 4.7.14: So Much Information, Precious Little Insight

By - April 06, 2014

appsvwebReading over my picks from the past week, I noticed a strong theme – we’re using more and more apps, creating more and more data, but we’re not seeing the true value we might from connecting all the dots. Sure, the NSA is – and Facebook, Google, and other large platforms are as well. But imagine what happens when *we* get those insights?! A move from the center (big platforms) to the node (us) of the information ecosystem seems imminent…

Apps Solidify Leadership Six Years into the Mobile Revolution – Flurry 

Nearly three hours a day on our mobile phones (and we’re not talking). Most of that time we’re in “AppWorld” – not on “the open web.” That is a scary trend, to my mind. But I think it’s temporary. Or rather, I hope it is.

Facebook Explores Anonymity Features – Re/code

Turns out, as a service, you have to provide what people want. For the most part. Facebook is considering the impact of apps like SnapChat and Secret. Clearly, it’s not what the social networking giant *wants* – but perhaps this is a worm turning.

NSA chief’s legacy is shaped by big data, for better and worse – latimes.com

Indeed, if this outgoing NSA Director *missed* the big data revolution, he’d have been outgoing a long time ago…

Google Tops Exxon Mobil to Become World’s 2nd Most Valuable Company – Mashable

Apple is still #1. I wonder how long this will last, given Google’s ambitious push into entirely new markets.

Don’t eat that! SRI built a calorie-counting food app that works via a photo snap — Tech News and Analysis

Yes, I want this. Please. And please make it work with my Fuelband?!

Surprise, surprise: my online metadata actually reveals where I’ve been – Ars Technica

Startling to see how easy it is for someone with a few bits of digital information to figure out quite a lot more about us.

Forget the Quantified Self. We Need to Build the Quantified Us | Design – WIRED

Yes. I’ve been on about this for some time. Because of AppWorld, all these silos of data have yet to get to second and third-order insights. But we are starting to, slowly…

Google Weighs a Plunge into Mobile Phone Services – The Information

Most likley Google won’t do it the way the carriers are doing it. And I for one hope they go for it.

The Mozilla Manifesto – Mozilla

In light of the CEO controversy, worth remembering what it is about Mozilla that makes it unique.

The Fifth Protocol – Startup Boy

Because no edition of Else is complete without some thinking about Bitcoin.

We Are the Builders of Tech Revolutions. Why Are They Still a Surprise? | Blog | design mind

Reading this closely, and he’s talking about what I opened with – connecting all the dots…

Else 3.31.14: Skulls, Bitcoin, AI, Souls, and Corporate Religion

By - March 30, 2014

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumb(image) If you’re a reader of this newsletter, you’re in elite company. Each week I chose ten or so stories from the score or so that I save to Evernote, and I annotate them after about three glasses of wine on a Sunday night. I make no pretense to be Jason or Dave, instead, this is a way to remember the most important stories of the past week through the filter of “the book.” And when I say “the book,” I mean That Project That Has Haunted Me For More Than Five Years But Is Increasingly Becoming Real. In other words, if you read this newsletter (or post), you’re a true fan of my work. And for that, I am thankful.

This past week was full of gems. The New Yorker reminded us how poignant digital life can be. We struggled with the ethics of 3D printing, even as we reveled in its power to save lives. Oh, and then there’s the singularity, and protecting us from the same. An epic Facebook rant, more Bitcoin, more brain-twisters about who’s a person, alive, dead, or corporate, in our increasingly mashed up world. To the links…

The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf : The New Yorker

What happens if you die in your car, alone in your garage, and your bill pay (and some well-intentioned neighbors) keep the world thinking you’re alive? You still “exist” – and this certainly makes one think about what the word “exist” really means.

Defending the World from Evil Robots – The Information

There are thousands of high-end PhDs at Google and many other places who want to create AI capable of thinking like a human. Then there’s this small group – seven in total – worrying about what happens if it actually comes to pass. Yikes.

The yet-to-be-defined Ethics of 3D Printing of Organs — Tech Talk — Medium

What happens to religion when we can play God?

Woman’s entire cranium replaced with 3D-printed skullcap – DVICE

Never mind, we already are. And thank God for that.

Facebook Joins Google In The Hunt For The Future – TechCrunch

Or, put another way, we have more money than we need for our current business, so let’s play the odds on where it might all go.

A Breakup Letter to Facebook from Eat24

Then again, maybe the current business has a few cracks in it. OMG. Just read this. Just READ THE WHOLE THING. And tell me you don’t want to just watch this gif over, and over. And over.

The Fierce Battle for the Soul of Bitcoin- Wired.com

Long read. Worthy.

I.R.S. Says Bitcoin Should Be Considered Property, Not Currency – NYTimes.com

Short read. Topical.

What will blow our minds in the *next* 30 years? -TED Blog

Swallowing Shakespeare.

It’s Time to Grant Immunity to Edward Snowden – Esquire

Hard to disagree with the logic here. If Snowden has forced a President to change policy, he’s a whistleblower, not a traitor.

Here’s what you need to know about the Hobby Lobby case – Wapo

Are corporations “people” with “religious beliefs”? This is a VERY BIG QUESTION now before the Supreme Court. It matters, because, you know, these “people” are making…machines that ACT LIKE PEOPLE. Does your head hurt yet? Why not?!

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Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It

By - March 24, 2014

thecircleLast month I finished Dave Eggers’ latest novel The Circle, the first work by a bona fide literary light that takes on our relationship with today’s Internet technology and, in particular, our relationship with corporations like Google.

It took me a while to start The Circle, mainly because of its poor word of mouth. Most of the folks I know who mentioned it, did so in an unfavorable light. “Eggers doesn’t get our industry,” was one theme of the commentary. “He did zero research, and was proud of it!” was another. I wanted to let some time go by before I dove in, if only to let the criticism ebb a bit. It struck me that it’s not a novelist’s job to get an industry *right*, per se, but to tell a story and compel us to think about its consequences in way that might change us a little bit. I wanted to be open to that magic that happens with a great book, and not read it with too much bias.

Once I began, I found the novel engaging and worthy, but in the end, not wholly fulfilling. I found myself wishing Eggers would reveal something new about our relationship to technology and to companies like Google, Facebook, Apple – but in that department the book felt predictable and often overdone.

But first, a bit of background. “The Circle” refers to a fictional company by the same name, a rather terrifying monolith that arises sometime in the near future. The Circle has the arrogance and design sensibilities of Apple, the ‘we can do it because we’re smarter (and richer) than everyone else’ mentality of Google, the always-be-connected-and-share-everything ethos of Facebook, with a dash of Twitter’s public square and plenty of Microsoft’s once-famed rapaciousness. The Circle is, in short, a mashup of every major tech-company cliche in the book, which to be fair kind of makes it fun. It’s run by the “Three Wise Men,” for example, a direct nod to Google’s ten year rule of the “triumvirate” – Page, Brin, and Schmidt.

The story revolves around Mae Holland, a young woman who jumps from a dull job at a local utility to the golden ticket that is an entry level gig at The Circle. Mae is overwhelmed by her luck and eager to please her new bosses. Early on, reading was a lot of fun, because the patter of the Circle employees feels so…familiar. Every problem has a logical and obvious solution, and nearly all of those solutions involve everyone using The Circle’s services. All employees of the Circle become citizens of the Circle, wittingly or not. They live, eat, sleep, fuck, and party with others from the Circle, because that’s how they get ahead. Mae is swept into this culture willingly, losing sight of her family, non-Circle friends, and most of the facets of her life that once defined her. And so the story is pushed along, as Mae slowly becomes a product of the Circle, even as she (unconvincingly) rebels from time to time.

This phenomenon is certainly not foreign to any young tech worker at Google or Facebook, but Eggers takes it to extremes. He nails the breathless “save the world” mentality that often accompanies the pitches of young tech wizards, but offers no counterpoints save perhaps the reader’s own sense of improbability. For example, one exec at The Circle is working on a plan to implant a chip into every newborn’s bones, so there’d be no more child abductions. Another ruse is the sweeping adoption of “Transparency” by elected officials – every public servant uses The Circle’s technology to be “always on” while attending to their duties, so that anyone can check on them at any time (Mae ultimately goes transparent as well). Toward the end, much of government is close to becoming privatized through The Circle, because it’s more efficient, transparent, and accountable. And various ridiculous mottos espoused by The Circle – “Privacy Is Theft,” “Secrets Are Lies,” “All That Happens Must Be Known” – are readily accepted by society. All of these examples are offered as matter of fact, logical ends serving greater social means, but as readers we smirk – they are likely never happen due to issues the book fails to consider.

Then again…It may be that the lack of contrarian views is intentional, and if you can suspend disbelief, you find yourself in the a place not unlike 1984 or Animal Farm – a twisted version of the near future where absolutists have taken over society. And it’s for the creation of that potential that I give The Circle the most credit – it litigates the idea of the corporation as Paternitas, the all seeing, all caring, all nurturing force to which individuals have forsaken themselves so as to allow a greater good. It’s too early to say whether The Circle will stand with such classics, but certainly it does stand as a warning. I found myself disturbed by The Circle, even as I found it easy to dismiss. Because its predictions were too easily made – I couldn’t suspend disbelief.

But perhaps that’s Egger’s point. The Circle forces us to think critically about the world we’re all busy making, and that’s never a waste of time. And besides, the story has all manner of enjoyable and outlandish contours – if you work in this industry, or just find it fascinating, you’ll leave the book entertained. A worthy read.