3 Books That Watch Your Every Move

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They can watch us, of course. We knew they could. We suspected. But to have it confirmed, to discover that exactly this and precisely that, these emails we sent, those calls we made, are neatly documented and filed away (just in case there should be a future cause for concern, of course, don't worry yourself, it will probably never be you) ... that's a little uncomfortable.

Novels dealing in privacy-free futures aren't new, with Orwell's 1984 the granddaddy of them all. (Is there anything that book didn't get right? Only things that haven't come true yet). But they're rapidly becoming more relevant. As we shift our lives online, more of what used to be private by default is made visible to digital eyes, both government and corporate, which sift, analyze and seek out patterns. The kind of privacy we used to enjoy without thinking about it — back when we traveled without swiping, purchased without registering and liked without clicking — is a thing of the past. Privacy is no longer something we get for free.

And is it worth it? Because it's easier to be tracked: to swipe the card, to sign up for the service, to install the app. We get a lot of cool stuff that way. A lot of convenience. So why resist? What's the downside? Three lesser-known books answer have an answer.

Moxyland

by Lauren Beukes

Paperback, 377 pages, Osprey Pub Co, $7.99, published August 31 2010 | purchase

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In Moxyland, cellphones are everything: You use a cell for identification, to make payments, to catch a cab, and the fact that I'm struggling to come up with an example that hasn't already come true is a testament to the book's insight. So what's new? Disconnection as a punishment for lawbreakers! Mess with the police and they'll kick you off the network, consigning you to a netherworld existence, free in theory to go about your business, in practice unable to so much as ride the bus. It's such an insidious, retrospectively obvious idea, you just know it's coming. There's much more, too: Four young people attempting to escape all-seeing eyes both state and corporate, and a lovely subplot involving an advertisement that's more like an infection.

Little Brother

by Cory Doctorow

Paperback, 416 pages, St Martins Pr, $9.99, published April 13 2010 | purchase

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Little Brother
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Little Brother describes the aftermath of a terrorist attack in San Francisco, when calls to exchange privacy for security are at their most strident. The book is aimed at young adults, but it's eminently readable, telling a highly enjoyable tale of teenagers swept up in a zealous Homeland Security investigation. In particular it describes the way in which technology has become privacy's new battleground: Can you trust your computer? Cory Doctorow is an activist and frequent speaker on issues of information freedom, well-known to geeks and nerds all over the world. His vision of the future we may be building for ourselves is thought-provoking and chillingly plausible.

Blind Faith

by Ben Elton

Paperback, 366 pages, Trafalgar Square, $12.95, published October 1 2008 | purchase

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Blind Faith
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Blind Faith describes a future London in which privacy is illegal: The ruling theocracy believes literally that only the guilty have something to hide and requires that citizens constantly upload footage of themselves to "WorldTube." This way, everyone will behave morally — because that's what you do when you know someone might be watching. In this panopticon society, a man discovers a work colleague is faking her video blogs and becomes drawn into an underground movement. Ben Elton is far better known in the U.K., where he has written extensively for television and theater, in addition to publishing more than a dozen novels. His work isn't to everyone's tastes, tending occasionally to bludgeon you about the head with the satire stick, but Elton can always be relied on to back a truckload of ideas up to your brain and dump them in.

So there you go. Exile by cellphone, a government police state or a puritanical fishbowl; take your pick. Oh, none of those? Very suspicious, citizen. What have you got to hide?

Max Barry is the author of Lexicon.

Three Books... is produced and edited by the team at NPR Books.

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