'The Circle' author Dave Eggers discusses digital use in small student gathering

Alison Kuznitz
October 14, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An intimate group of students from the Schreyer Honors College and Presidential Leadership Academy were afforded the unique opportunity to have breakfast with author Dave Eggers on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Eggers wrote the 2016-17 Penn State Reads common book selection, “The Circle,” which depicts a dystopian society faced with ethical dilemmas arising from technology.

Many of the topics discussed at the breakfast, including privacy and surveillance risks that run rampant in the digital era, built upon a keystone event available to all Penn State students featuring Eggers and Dan Moulthrop, CEO of The City Club of Cleveland.

“It was enlightening to see how students were challenged by Mr. Eggers to think more deeply about the use of their digital devices and personal security levels,” said Donna Meyer, director of student programs in the Schreyer Honors College

“In addition to Penn State Reads identifying the book and hosting a formal conversation, the program’s mission of creating these amazing out of classroom experiences is invaluable to all students.”

During the small gathering, Eggers broached the complex nature of ID cards used widely at the University. With every swipe, information on students is collected and can become readily accessible to interested parties, Eggers said. 

Cecilia Mabilais-Estevez, a sophomore studying English and economics, said this inherent tracking isn’t necessarily a bad thing — especially when one considers how the cards grant entry to residence halls.

“It’s an added sense of security,” Mabilais-Estevez said. “We give up some privacy rights for security. It’s give and take.”

Other “creepy” mechanisms for tracking individuals were discussed, including location-enabled smartphone applications and fingerprint passcodes.

Students came to the consensus that Snapchat is terrifying in its storage of data, especially in considering how their pictures may be exploited in the future.

Yet, one positive use of big data is that trends can be interpreted to better mitigate police and gun violence epidemic, Eggers said.

The conversation also circulated around designing a framework of appropriate technology and digital use habits, comparable to those already well established in the medical field and other professional industries.        

“So much of what we’re dealing with in the digital realm is equally consequential, but nobody’s stopping and realizing that we need to have ethical guidelines,” Eggers said.

Sage McKeand, a first-year student studying immunology and infectious diseases, said she said loves to read and enjoyed the opportunity to a meet a reputable author.

“I think it’s interesting to hear about [authors’] writing because it’s such a mysterious art to me,” she said. “As to what was memorable, everything we talked about really. I liked how we talked about policy and had real-life discussions about the University and privacy.”    

Additional information about Penn State Reads can be found at pennstatereads.psu.edu. A full list of Penn State Reads events can be viewed here.

Penn State Reads is run jointly by Penn State Student Affairs and Penn State Undergraduate Education


Last Updated April 19, 2017