by Dave Eggers
Summary: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
Source: I purchased a paperback
The Circle was a modern day dystopia.. a kind of 1984 that makes more sense in our digital age. It blends the social media aspects of our lives with our openness and need to share to feel valued and spins that around. While aspects of the book are believable, I don’t think it’s meant to be a “this could happen right now in our society” kind of book, but more of an interesting blend of concepts that would probably never happen, but still serve a slightly exaggerated cautionary tale.
I love dystopias, but I realize that there is a lot of kick back in our society that makes almost all attempts at unifying us into the utopia to being with that is so unbelievable and far fetched. But I appreciate the attempts and I think that most, if not all, dystopian novels bring something to the table: some issue worth discussing that could lead to drastic consequences. There are some negative reviews about the book because people find it exaggerated, but I think those people miss the point.
In The Circle, Mae works for a company that is innovative in the digital age. I know that I immediately thought about Google when she set foot on the campus. The campus, the employees, the corporate culture is one of openness, utilization, and they also seemed very concerned about her attempting to fit in socially. For some people, even that seemed a bit far fetched, but even I have to admit my job has a certain culture that encourages some things, has programs that use all one password under my own user id that helps connect everything. If you don’t work for a large and caring corporation, it can be hard to imagine, but it certainly exists in today’s world. Of course, no corporation is quite what the Circle is in the book.
The book begins to slowly chip away at privacy by promoting transparency. What started as a cool idea to place these cameras on beaches so we can all see the beach from our homes quickly turned into putting them everywhere for safety. And the story kind of takes ideas like that and runs with it. Mae has to be social, attend parties, utilize social media socially as well as professionally and juggle all of that. When she was confronted for going off of the grid by stealing away hours in a kayak, she was considered to be selfish for not wanting to document her journey with others. There was little to no push back when these ideas were presented, so the story just kept rolling with it. Seemed like everyone against transparency had something to hide..
As I said before, I don’t think the book is necessarily plausible, but it certainly brings up good points. Privacy is important, but the right to privacy does make it more difficult to find criminals and also to stop crime from happening. People are going to take advantage of the shadows and I can understand the desire to want to open things up to prevent bad things from happening. It’s natural. It’s why we rush to regulate something as soon as something bad happens, regardless of what it is. We are always looking for new ideas to help keep our world safe and sometimes, it’s not until it’s too late that we worry about what we’ve lost after the fact. We have groups of people who both do the same things and demand regulation about some things, yet worry about what rights they are losing and choose when it’s okay to regulate something for the sake of something else. It’s a constant battle, but we are ALWAYS rallying for something being regulated to be made safer for our own good. How many times have you heard someone say that it’s not a problem to [insert thing they want to do here] unless you have something to hide?
We also rush to post where we are and what we are doing to connect with other people, often leaving us disconnected with the people physically around us. Visiting a place because more of a thing you do so that others can see you do it versus enjoying it on your own. Also, there are privacy issues with the way we use social media. We are telling people where we are, what we are doing, and it tells them when we aren’t home, when we are alone doing something, where we are.. and the wrong kind of people can get that information and use it against us. Those are all concepts that I’m familiar with in today’s society.
I thought The Circle was thought provoking. Here I am, using social media to connect with other bookish people, posting about books, blogging, and being on my phone often. But I still have to put it down, read, spend time with friends, and it’s important to maintain a balance. I don’t feel like the author of the book necessarily hates technology.. because our attachment to our smart phones is something we have noticed as a society. Technology has done weird things to us, I think. I used to be quiet and I kept to myself, but on the internet, where I can blog, be a part of certain networks, I’m loud about books and other stuff I love and it has made me feel connected. However, I know that even I need to unplug because, at the very heart of me, I’m a solitary person and I need my own time. That’s the type of behavior that the book doesn’t take into account. Extroverts don’t always have the time or inclination to always post because they truly recharge in the company of others, introverts who do post, still want to be alone. And vice versa. Introverts won’t always post and sometimes, extraverts embrace every selfie and moment they can share with the world where they are. I don’t think enough people are truly ready for 100% social media everywhere all of the time.
I definitely recommend The Circle. I loved the way it ended. The book kind of reminded me of 1984 and I felt like it paid homage to the book and made it a little more “believable” because it modernized the story. There’s always a place for tales like these because someone needs to exaggerate things to warn us about the consequences of taking an idea like transparency too far.