I love dystopian books and films; give me the corruption, nihilism and disturbing realness of The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Road, and of course, Nineteen Eighty-Four, over the dullness of Love Island. Thanks to Orwell’s 1949 novel, the concept of “Big Brother is watching you” is solidified in people’s minds. However, the authoritarian nature, surveillance and manipulated propaganda of Oceania no longer resonate with the same potency. Our generation, by that I mean the generation of young adults living in the capitalist, ‘democratic’, West, do not fear an intrusive state constantly spying on us. This reality does not ring familiar for us, I mean Theresa May is a witch like crow, but she’s as dangerous as a blunt butter knife.
Two things our generation actually fear are the powers exercised by corporations and the intrusiveness, and contradictory disconnecting effect, of social media. The Circle, a techno thriller, directed by James Ponsoldt, manifests these concerns in the 21st century dystopian tale. Emma Watson stars as Mae, she begins as an innocent worker of the social media company ‘The Circle’; as the film progresses she struggles between the perks and dangers of complete ‘transparency’ and sharing all online. From the ability to track someone’s specific location (sound similar to Snapchat’s new feature?) and cameras filming every experience of your life. She finally takes down the company’s unsurprisingly corrupt heads, played respectively by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt. However, away from the classic happy ending and closer to Orwell’s, Mae ends the film happily being followed by drones filming all she does. Thus, living up to Eamon Bailey’s, Tom Hanks, speech earlier in the film, “Knowing is good. But knowing everything is better.”
The blockbuster received average and negative reviews across the board, scoring only 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. Believe me despite being theoretically sound on a conceptual level, not to mention having a star-studded cast and slick sets and gadgets, the film in reality is a bit of an anti-climax and the evil of the company is too clear from the off. And yet, it got me thinking.
The three largest social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, were all founded predicated on the ideal of communication. In 2017, if I want to find a date I have Tinder, if I want people to read my articles I upload a column onto here or a blog post onto WordPress, if I want to find a job I go on Indeed, or if I’m hungry there’s Ubereats.
Our world of cyberspace communication allows us to be able do everything and anything just from a small screen. So, I wonder, due to this, as predicted in the film, is our privacy and ability to interact physically being reduced? Instead we click share, like and poke, I can ‘communicate’ with billions of people without saying a word or seeing beyond the bright screen.
So what is truly the international scope of this internet phenomenon? The above chart is actually out of date, Facebook recently celebrated achieving two billion users, and one billion, two hundred thousand enjoyed their Messenger app. Indeed, the Office for National Statistics, backs up these numbers. In 2016, the internet was used daily or almost daily by 82%, or 41.8 million, of adults; this substantially contrasts with the figures from 2006, 11 years ago only 16.2% went on the server so much. Moreover, 70% use it on the go via mobiles; in 2011, once again, the figure was relatively lower at 36%. And my last statistic, I understand they are so boring, but PEE, Point Evidence Explain if you were wondering, was drilled into my brain during GCSE English. In 2016, 77% of adults bought goods or services online, I’ll add this isn’t just via eBay, but also more ‘interactive’ versions, for example, Buy and Sell pages on Facebook. Social media, in its literal sense, has invaded every aspect of our lives.
Amy Jo Martin, an American author, entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Digi Reality, a social media and education company that helps individuals and brands with their digital universe, believes that, “social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.”
So, what’s the problem? It allows things and information to travel faster; it enables people to raise awareness about anything, from social injustices, for example the Black Lives Matter movement, to environmental issues, for instance America pulling out of the Paris Accord, or epidemics, such as Ebola. It provides endless platforms for personal and professional use and it facilitates the ability to communicate with friends and family across physical boundaries.
Paradoxically, JR, an anonymous French photographer and artist, stipulates, “The more social media we have, the more we think we’re connecting, yet we are really disconnecting from each other.”
It is widely theorised that by becoming so reliant on the easiness of communication via social media, we are less confident interacting in person, its far easier to send an emoji than actually say “Hello”, I avoid it whenever possible. And even when we do, there are things previously considered rude, for example, texting and generally being on your phone when having a conversation, that are now normalised. Instead, letting your Snapchat streak disappear or not liking your mate’s pictures are now considered critical. The fact some parents have to have a rule where everyone puts their phone on the table during meals shows times have changed.
There is of course an even darker side to this cyber disconnection. When online, people are willing to say and do horrible things because of the anonymity and protection of the social media wall. Hence, by sharing too much information online or simply putting yourself on the web, although unlikely to be on the hyperbolic scale of The Circle, you can become a victim of identity fraud, catfishing, cyberbullying, trolling or stalking.
We are also potentially disconnecting from reality and not just each other. Thanks to celebrities exaggerated presentation of their looks, lives and their success on social media, *cough* the Kardashian’s,*cough* there is continually mounting pressure to live up to these new norms and fashions plastered across our Explore page as their followers go into the hundreds of millions. Hence, we edit, we filter and exaggerate our lives.
Okay, so that was a long old rant. And to be honest, quite a pointless one. As phrased by Alice, aka from Alice in Wonderland, “That’s just the trouble with me; I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”
I’ll preach that social media is affecting our ability to form physical relationships, that it emphasises our anxieties about our appearance and invades our privacy. Overall I’ll seem to predict we are heading towards a future where we are infinitely scrolling, never looking up and the corporations have our souls.
And yet, every morning I’ll wake up, unlock my phone, check if I have any texts, and then proceed to look on my Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram (and indeed looking at the infamous Kardashians), Twitter, Sky News app and Hotmail email. This I will continue to do throughout my day.