Tech by VICE

Does Rand Paul Know He's Recreating a Dystopian Sci-Fi Novel?

The livestreamed campaign takes a page out of the Dave Eggers novel "The Circle."

by Emanuel Maiberg
Oct 14 2015, 1:00pm

Image: Rand Paul's USTREAM

On Monday, Rand Paul proudly announced on Twitter that he would become the first presidential candidate to livestream himself for an entire day.

The communications director for Rand Paul for America Sergio Gor told me the campaign didn't know the decision was eerily similar to a plot point in the dystopian science fiction novel The Circle.

The novel, written by Dave Eggers and published in 2014, follows Mae Holland at her new job at a company called The Circle, an amalgamation of Facebook, Google, and Apple all rolled into one super Silicon Valley company. An important point in the book is when US Congresswoman Olivia Santos agrees to wear the company's signature camera necklace and livestream her every waking moment for the whole world to see. The Circle calls this going "transparent," which is exactly what Paul is trying to do.

"In an effort to continue his efforts to run the most digital savvy and transparent campaign on either side of the aisle, Senator Paul will be the first Presidential candidate to live-stream an entire day on the campaign trail," the Paul campaign's chief digital strategist Vincent Harris told Rare.

Why? What's behind the black curtain? Nothing, I'm sure. Paul eating a sandwich. Paul being briefed about his next meeting.

The idea in The Circle is that if voters can see Santos and what she's doing at all times, she won't be able to meet with wealthy donors and lobbyists. The Circle's all-seeing camera, a reimagining of Orwell's big brother from 1984 but for the age of social media, eliminates the smoky back room where politicians and corporations decide the future for the masses.

As a dystopian novel, obviously, this doesn't work out so well. We discover that The Circle and its mission of getting everyone to make their lives public on the internet at all times is a new kind totalitarianism. "PRIVACY IS THEFT, SECRETS ARE LIES," The Circle claims, and soon Holland becomes a prisoner of a relentlessly connected future. Santos is transparent, but similarly a prisoner to the whims of internet mobs and The Circle, the owner of all forms of communication, which citizens just have to trust is benign.

Image: Rand Paul's USTREAM

The stream started at around 10:00 AM Eastern time with a little small talk between Paul and former UFC champion Pat Miletich. Like all the footage during the stream, it was shot with an iPhone by one of the staffers.

Paul, wearing a blue fleece, seemed miniscule next to the pumped up Miletich in a tight Rand Paul presidential campaign T-shirt. Miletich then introduced Paul to a small crowd in an event hall in Iowa. During his introduction, he suggested that as president, Paul might be able to take control of America away from the people behind the "black curtain."

Image: Rand Paul's USTREAM

Then Paul gave a stump speech, where he banged his drum on his top issues: Spending and debt, ending NSA spying, taxes, and so on. Then he took pictures with members of the audience, got in a car that took him to another college where he gave another stump speech, took more pictures, and got in a car again.

That, sadly, is mostly what the campaign trail looks like. Stump speeches, hand shaking, and interviews in between. That's mostly what the stream consisted of when it was going. I'd hesitate to call it a livestream, really, and definitely walk it back from the way Paul's campaign initially described it. What footage we saw was live, but the stream often paused, sometimes due to technical difficulties, and more often out of choice. It seems that whenever Paul was on stage, taking pictures, or in an interview, the camera was on. As soon Paul walked off the stage, the feed died. Except for a few moments in the car, after lunch, and some downtime at an empty baseball field, we didn't see much behind the scenes at all.

Why? What's behind the black curtain? Nothing, I'm sure. Paul eating a sandwich. Paul being briefed about his next meeting or going over a new Hillary Clinton zinger. But that's the stuff our prying eyes want to see, no? The stuff between the rehearsed stump speeches.

There were very brief moments, sometimes seemingly captured by accident, where some humanity sneaked through. In the car, on the way to another speech, Paul listened to "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, which is a thing real people do. A younger campaign staffer tries to play a song from Florence and the Machine, and she and Paul fumble to play on the car stereo through her phone. That didn't seem rehearsed, but too many moments like that and others we didn't get to see apparently make Paul too transparent for comfort.

My main issue with The Circle was that Eggers assumes the tech giants he's criticizing are as powerful, capable, and life-altering as they claim to be. A lot of the book is obviously riffing on Google Glass panic that seized the Bay Area in 2013, but if you've ever wore an augmented reality device, you know that they're still clunky gadgets; a half-baked idea in search of a purpose.

Tech just isn't as powerful as tech companies want us to believe, good or bad, and Rand Paul's decision to livestream himself isn't as revolutionary as it sounds. Most of all, it's boring.