Fiction or future: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Last week Google announced the acquisition of home appliance manufacturer Nest for no less than 3.2 billion USD. Surely internet-enabled home appliances can take away a lot of the dull work of home management, so consumers will probably embrace the new innovations like a long lost friend, but it sparks the privacy discussion once more. Nest’s current product portfolio consists of just two products: A thermostat and a smoke detector.

The internet of things

Glass house image courtesy of Dornob.com

With Google moving in, Nest seems to have overcome its big challenges like infrastructure and funding, so the product portfolio may be rapidly expanding to other home appliances as well. As innovation of well-sold products like television sets and (smart)phones becomes exhausted, the next innovations will be in other parts of our houses. The internet of things, that is where the future is. And Google knows it.

If you’re interested in the innovations of communicating home applicances, have a look at this CES 2014 report.

Of all benefits that acquiring Nest brings Google, the most striking is the insights they will be getting in what we do when we’re not on the web. Imagine the value for advertisers and government of data from our in-and-around the house behavior.

The Circle

Recently I finished reading The Circle, by Dave Eggers. A novel about a company namedThe Circle - Dave Eggers The Circle and a girl named Mae. In the 6 years since its launch, The Circle has become the world’s biggest company. Main reason for the success is the fact that Circles invented a personal online account, which pre-empted all other passwords and accounts. This account is called TruYou, and has lead to individuals giving their honest opinions online.

The comparison to Google is very clear, not only by using The Circle ( as in Google Circles) as the company name, but also from the dominance online, the requirement of leaving your personal data (Remember; Google created Google Plus accounts for everyone and every business) and the aim of ‘closing the circle’, making everything we do traceable and public.

In The Circle, our main character is Mae, a college graduate who has spent a few years at a local energy company. Mae is relieved to be able to leave the local narrow-mindedness of this relic of old times for the future-oriented The Circle. The fact that Mae comes from a dozed provincial energy company is pretty ironic, as Google has just entered the energy market with the acquisition of Nest.

At The Circle, Mae first starts out in the Customer Experience department, where she deals with advertisers questions. This goes very well, and before she knows it, she has not only one screen to keep an eye on, but 9.

On her desk, Mae gets screens for the internal engagement index, based on postings, participation in campus events, for external postings, for questions of advertisers and for feedback and questions from co-workers. At the same time Mae is answering small questionnaires by nodding and talking to an in-ear device which fires questions at her all day.

Of course, all of her actions are ranked and compared to co-workers. When Mae’s score is lagging behind, her manager shows disappointment in her performance and emphasizes the importance of getting higher in the internal ranks of all 10,000 employees.
So Mae starts working on this, almost day and night. Answering more questions, helping more advertisers, posting and replying to messages online and posting reviews about everything she comes across. Immediately she feels rewarded by her ascendance on the rankings, closer to the top-2000 employees.

Innovations

Furthermore, a number of innovations is introduced in TheCircle:

– a wrist band which tracks your health, sleeping behavior and daily activities and is connected to the doctors office.
– small camera’s that consumers can stick on everything and which real-time stream daily events, so that every place everywhere is viewable for everyone.
– A wearable camera, that records all personal actions and publish them online. This camera is used initially to make sure that politicians ‘go completely public’.
– Elections being held via people’s Circle account and the control of The Circle over all government services.

Besides debating the implications of making everything available online, The Circle also asks (and answers) the question of how far gamification and performance based scoring will go and what this means for our personal lives.

How far away is the image The Circle paints?

WaltervanderScheer-PersonalLifeOnline
Walter van der Scheer- Our personal life online

The painted image is scary, but yet, not so far away. Most of the innovations drawn in Circles are already available or not that far away. Already we share a lot about ourselves online, via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Gamification is one of the fastest growing marketing industries right now, and Klout scores are used in job interviews. We wear our Jawbone Up24 or Basis Carbon Steel with pride and wear a GoPro camera on our heads.

With the acquisition of Nest, the launch of Google Glass and self-driving cars not so far away, the question is whether TheCircle will remain science-fiction, or if it depicts our future. What do you think about the current direction of Google regarding the control of information?

About the author

As experience-sharing and information-digesting Walter is, he doesn’t have a crystal ball to depict the future of our information age. Right now, curiosity competes with reluctance to share. Currently, curiosity is winning. +

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