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To see or not to see…

What would you do if you knew everyone was watching you? That's one of the questions probed in Dave Eggers' new book, The Circle, a mashup of 1984 meets 21st century Silicon Valley. Technology in both its best and worst forms has made us a more transparent society.
October 23, 2013

It’s that time of year again: rewards season. As a judge for both iKids video awards and TOTY toy awards, I sort through mountains of products. Some leave me awestruck by their brilliance; others make me gasp with horror. All make me contemplate what developers—or marketers— were thinking when creating these concepts. These are the toys and tools that our kids will be using every day. They espouse the values we want them to adopt; they show them ways to view the world. We all know, play is how kids learn.

What would you do if you knew everyone was watching you? That’s one of the questions probed in Dave Eggers’ new book, The Circle, a mashup of 1984 meets 21st century Silicon Valley. Technology in both its best and worst forms has made us a more transparent society. We follow our friends’ every action on Facebook, their activities, adventures, and meals on Instagram, their on-or-off the cuff comments on Twitter, their spur-of-the-moment silliness on Snapchat. Likes and dislikes are there for all to see. Jenna Wortham, in a recent NYTimes article, explained the proliferation of Selfies as a way to mark our own existence, to say “I was here.” Who doesn’t want to be remembered by someone? Google recently announced that our quotes may soon become public fodder. Facebook now allows users 13 to 17 years old to share posts outside their friends network.  Not surprisingly, the rise of tools such as AdTrap, Spoiler Foiler and KillSwitch are a backlash against too much info.

In Eggers’ book, a young girl “borrows” a kayak left outside a rental company after hours. When caught returning it, she’s asked if she would have done this if she knew she were being watched. Of course not.  So the question becomes, if we were always watched, if we lived in a totally transparent society, would we behave differently? Would we act more ethically, be kinder, stay safer, and ultimately create a better society? Would Anthony Weiner have posted selfies if he knew he would be outed? On the flip side, would major donors still give millions if their names didn’t appear on buildings? In The Circle, Sharing is Caring. We could spend hours and days debating whether that’s true and still not reach a consensus. But what we can probably agree upon is that when we’re accountable, we perform better.

Look again at the products you’ve released this year. Look at the ones in your pipeline for the future. Are you proud of them? Are they the best they can be? It’s never easy to create new products. But it’s not that much easier to create mediocre products. They all take time, energy and money. Are you producing ideas that your parents would be proud of? More importantly, are you producing ideas that you’d  want your own kids to use?

Still reeling from reading The Circle! I would love to hear your take at wendy@sandboxsummit.org

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