All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Circle – Dave Eggers

on November 11, 2013

CircleThe Circle
Dave Eggers
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When Mae’s college room mate Annie gets her a job at The Circle, Mae can’t believe her luck. The Circle is where everyone wants to be employed. The massive company, controlled by the Three Wise Men created a way to steamline everyone’s online presence. Now you have just one profile, one way of exploring social media, one way of paying for things. It’s tied to your real identity and social security number so it totally eliminated trolling, identity theft and online false identities. It revolutionised the way that people use the internet and it’s still growing.

Mae starts off in Customer Experience answering queries from clients but she’s quickly assured that if her performance is strong she’ll move into other, more interesting areas the way Annie has. At first Mae doesn’t grasp just what it’s like to be employed by The Circle but after several conversations with her colleagues and superiors she begins to understand. Soon Mae is working off many screens answering queries, communicating within her circles and groups and answering consumer interest queries via headset. She becomes dedicated to improving her participation rank and spends hours making posts, commenting on others, leaving smiles and ‘zinging’ other’s posts (kind of like retweeting on twitter). She’s so used to working with so much information off multiple screens that it gets to the stage where it takes her hours just to switch her brain off to attempt to get to sleep at night, so dedicated is she to improving her performance. She has been embraced by The Circle, she is important to them and she wants to continue that.

Mae doesn’t realise that this is coming at a personal cost. Although The Circle have generously included her parents on her health plan which greatly helps her father who is suffering from MS, the downside is that they are drawn into Circle life, unwillingly. When one of the Three Wise Men takes his web cams that allow users to stream high quality video in real time, everyone within the Circle snaps them up and Mae’s parents find their house kitted out with webcams. This, says Mae, allows her to check in with them anytime, to see if they’re ok. The fact that her parents are uncomfortable with this invasion of privacy doesn’t worry Mae, she just finds them uninformed and not quite enlightened yet. They soon will be. Everyone soon will be.

The Circle takes place in the nearish future where one corporation has basically swallowed up all of the other internet giants: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal, etc. All gone, replaced by The Circle which caters to your every internet need. It operates out of a sprawling California campus that employs 10,000 people and contains everything from a gym to a lavish aquarium and hosts parties and get togethers for its employees every day and night. There are rooms for those too dedicated to go home and everyone is encouraged to interact with the community. To be as involved as they possibly can.

And it’s pretty much creepy as hell.

It takes the obsession with social media and internet presence to a new level, an extreme one but at the same time, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to be able to see this is a possible future reality. The Circle are always coming up with new ways to streamline the customer experience, to tie them to The Circle even more and Mae becomes so indoctrined to their ideas, so brainwashed that she doesn’t see that towards the end, where the founders are talking about completion and “closure” of the circle that makes up their logo/is a metaphor for the online experience that they are basically taking away everyone’s right to choose how much they know and how much they participate in various things including neighbourhood watch, the greater community and even the role of democracy. For me, disturbing as that is, it’s not the creepiest part of this book. The creepiest part is watching Mae go from someone who is happy at her new job but forgets about it once she leaves the campus to someone who is utterly pulled into the cult that is The Circle. The lectures she receives about her social media participation (of lack thereof) and instruction on how to better be involved flooded my brain with so much information that it was hard to process reading about it, I couldn’t imagine actually trying to function using all of the screens that Mae has at work for various different purposes. She quite often sits up until the early hours of the morning frantically commenting and posting and zinging and smiling to raise her participation rank, becoming obsessed with being seen as a valued employee, breaking into one of the upper 2000. The personal sacrifices along the way become enormous but by then she’s so involved that she doesn’t even see them, or doesn’t want to. Even a tragic event doesn’t shake her from her steadfast belief in The Circle and the right of people to have knowledge of everyone and everything.

There are ***MILD SPOILERS*** ahead

I loved this book and it’s protrayal of social media gone mad, of the dangers of a monopoly by one company and lack of competition and choice for consumers. It’s a blistering satire of society’s need to have a presence online and have recognition, validation of our existence. And I think it’s brilliantly done. You are so overwhelmed with information and advances and discoveries and inventions and ideas that you can imagine what it would be like for Mae, in this environment. However I must say that the ending deflated me. Mae had a choice and I think this book chooses the way that people wouldn’t expect, and a different way than most other books would choose. Despite my personal feelings about it and what I would’ve liked to see Mae do, I feel it was the right ending for the story the author is trying to tell although it does feel a bit rushed. I think we needed one more scene or the last scene needed to be longer, just for the reader to fully grasp the choice Mae makes and the implications of it.

End ***SPOILERS*** 

As creepy as it is in a kind of malevolent social media way, it’s also a very funny and there are moments where it’s cheesy too. It’s humour and the ability to poke fun at humanity’s need to be connected and have a presence online as much as it is a warning and I really enjoyed that.

A great read and one that has put Dave Eggers firmly on my radar. I’d read a little bit about him before, especially about his first novel which was listed for a Pulitzer. Will definitely be looking at getting that one and checking out his other work at some stage.

8/10

Book #287 of 2013

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4 responses to “The Circle – Dave Eggers

  1. Tiffany says:

    This sounds like a creepy book! I want to read it. The idea of social media or more invading our privacy is something we all talk about, but this is a new extreme. Sounds very intriguing!

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