RELEASE DATE: 13 July 2017
Richard Leghorn, founder of the Itek Corporation, coined the phrase, ‘the information age’. He was reflecting in part about the all-seeing capabilities of spy cameras, and the effect such ‘spectacular informational achievements’ would have on revealing the world around us. He was writing in 1960. What would he have made of today’s World Wide Web?
The Internet and its attendant social networks allow us to peer into public and private spaces unthinkable just 20 years ago. But the new tech-thriller The Circle suggests that however much these advances engage us, there is a point where the free flow of information no longer sets us free.
The Circle is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Dave Eggers. Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, an average college graduate who manages to snare a coveted position at the world’s most advanced technology company.
‘The Circle’ is a fictional mash-up of present-day tech giants. It encompasses diverse technologies like Microsoft, wields a world-dominating social network like Facebook, preaches a juncture of technology and artistry that reflects Apple, and embraces the same free-flowing creative environment as Google.
… there is a point where the free flow of information no longer sets us free.
Like most technology companies, The Circle is led by a small group of futurists, the key visionary being Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). With the warmth of a grandfather and the zeal of a prophet, Eamon preaches a free flow of all information to transform human society. Complete accountability, he suggests, will allow our ‘best selves’ to emerge.
Eamon promotes a new range of cameras by asking his new protégé, ‘So, Mae, do you think you behave better or worse when you’re being watched?’
The answer, of course, is ‘better’, and the argument that the spread of cameras like these could virtually eliminate crime sounds incredibly attractive. In fact, what Eamon is selling is a sin-free world brought about by the judicious application of technology:
‘I’m a believer in the perfectibility of human beings. I think we can be better. I think we can be perfect or near to it. And when we become our best selves, the possibilities are endless.’
Ironically, Christians know that there is already Someone who witnesses everything we do, and knows our every transgression. Our Creator promises to ‘bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing’, (Ecclesiastes 12:14) and one day, ‘each of us will give an account of ourselves to God’ (Romans 14:12).
Yet such warnings have not produced the ‘endless possibilities’ for good Eamon predicts. Our potential to complete that circle is forever thwarted by inner selfishness. The same can be said for every system that seeks to manufacture holiness through human effort. Each one reckons without the sinfulness of the human heart – a fact this film is well aware of.
As The Circle draws to its conclusion, Mae discovers that slogans like ‘Sharing is Caring’ easily give way to ‘Secrets are Lies’ and, finally, ‘Privacy is Theft’. The free flow of information is actually harnessed to suppress rather than empower those who embrace it. It turns out the motives of the minds behind The Circle are also far from pure. But Christians in the audience won’t need Dave Eggers to tell them that.
This review comes from The Lutheran July 2017. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.