The trailer for The Circle begins positively, with a Steve Jobs-esque pitch about the bright possibility a future with technology can offer the world. Then it quickly takes a cynical turn — technology is scary, inescapable and will ruin our lives if we don’t take a good, hard look at what we’re ‘letting’ it become.
The film debuts Friday, with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson who star as the co-founder and entry-level employee, respectively, of a giant technology company, The Circle. Through the company’s promise of total transparency and the mantra that “knowing is good, but knowing everything is better,” the film explores the questionable ethics behind social media and communication.
The Circle embodies the growing uneasiness of the vital role technology plays in our lives. And while it’s a legitimate fear to have in present day, the most interesting aspect of the story is its sharp contrast to past stories about technology, in which it played a much more positive, hopeful role.
Movies such as Iron Man and Skyfall, though not completely centered around technology, show how amazing it can be — with the right tools, new inventions can actually fight crime and save the world. The Jetsons depicted a clean-cut, robotic future in which technology helps us with everything — from easier, faster transportation to robotic maids who do our chores. The Social Network brought us a story of the true inception of social media and the accompanying awe of worldwide communication, while Lion portrays the incredible capacity the internet has to connect people on a global scale.
When movies show technology as a detriment rather than an advantage, they’re often set far in the future. Wall-E, for example, depicts a future in which technology has turned humans into unlikeable snobs. But still it remains hopeful, because the story is set in a distant future, theoretically giving us ample time to care about the environment and reconsider the food we consume before we become robotic slobs confined to motorized chairs.
The scariest part about The Circle is that it isn’t depicting a scary, evil technology-driven future. The scary, evil technology-driven setting it reflects is the present — the film’s official description places the story in the “not-too-distant future,” but every aspect of it could absolutely take place in 2017. The Circle’s office, with its open floor plan and collaborative, interactive structure, is strikingly similar to Apple’s or Facebook’s. It’s no coincidence that Hanks’ pitch in the trailer looks exactly like every other technology pitch we’ve seen.
While other, more optimistic films about technology enthusiastically look toward the future, The Circle is threatening because of its immediacy. Though perhaps amplified, it holds up a mirror to the present, begging us non-stop technology users to take a hard look at the complications of 24/7 information.
The Circle‘s premise reads like a dystopian story, yes, but we can’t hide behind the comfort of time — these things are happening right now. Within the past few weeks alone, there have been a couple of different cases of murders broadcast on Facebook Live — a prime example of the danger in allowing people to share everything.
If The Social Network proved social media to be exciting, yet a bit scary for those who created it, it launched into something much, much bigger than themselves, The Circle is a follow-up of sorts that argues the daunting enormity of social media is something that should concern everyone — not just those who stand to make money off it.
The Circle marks a major shift in the technological narrative. The role global networking plays in our lives is rapidly changing with very little knowledge of the consequences and ethics involved.
And even though we have the ability to constantly communicate, that’s one conversation that isn’t happening nearly enough.