Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Quotation: “This was a new skill she’d acquired, the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene and even cheerful, while, in her skull, all was chaos.”
Would recommend to: anyone who questions the role social media plays in our lives.
An all knowing, all powerful global corporation with unlimited access to your personal data, running the gauntlet from your fingerprint to your first kiss? To many, this dystopian scenario conjures up thoughts of Google, Amazon, or Facebook gone rouge. In his dystopian novel “The Circle,” Dave Eggers takes us to what many will say is our not-so-distant future.
The Circle is a media conglomerate with the power to forever change the world. It was started by “The Three Wise Men” with the intent to connect people from every corner of the world, but it grows to become so much more than that throughout the length of the novel.
Part Facebook and part Google, The Circle has the power to control and document the actions of every person on its network, from their favorite hobbies to their voting preferences. The company also has its own campus for employees to take advantage of featuring dorms and activity centers. It hosts company sponsored parties during the weekends, and it provides advanced healthcare to employees and their families. At The Circle, work and pleasure are available to employees at their fingertips without needing to step a single toe off the main campus.
Enter Mae Holland. Mae is young, she is fresh, and she is working in the customer service department thanks to her college roommate and long-time friend Annie, who actually happens to be one of the most influential people at the company belonging to the Group of 40, the core decision makers of The Circle.
Mae quickly embraces the life The Circle wants for her, and all other employees, to adopt. She focuses a majority of her time on social networking and developing her online persona, with actual customer service taking up only a fraction of her time. After nearly drowning in a river on a rogue kayak expedition, Mae decides to go fully transparent on social media with one of The Circle’s newest inventions, SeeChange. She shares every moment of her day every day, save for sleeping and going to the bathroom, with millions of people around the world. She is one of the first workers at The Circle to do so, and she soon becomes one of its shining stars.
As Mae begins to put social networking and her relationship with virtual strangers over those of longtime friends and family, readers begin to question the ethics of this advanced technology. Social media and technology are valuable assets to a certain extent, but they can soon become dangerous weapons when it comes to mental health and actually living life away from a screen.
Eggers develops a complex yet unlikeable character between the pages of his book – a point the movie producers clearly missed (Sorry Emma Watson, I love you!). Readers probably won’t like Mae, and that’s okay, because they’re not supposed to. She’s supposed to make readers question her choices and wonder what they would do if they were in her shoes. Eggers is trying to warn readers of what too much technology can do to their humanity through Mae’s questionable choices, and in her case, she almost loses it completely.
Eggers’ commentary on social media and the evils technology can bring to life are hard to miss. He is warning readers that if they don’t curb their addiction to social media now, they may not be able to take back their choices.
Eggers’ foray into this science fiction dystopia challenges readers beliefs about the power and benefits of technology. How much information are we really putting out there and how much control do we have over our actions? Are we only pretending to like avocado toast because it’s the cool thing to post on Instagram or do we really enjoy mushy green fruit on our bread? (If you do, keep doing you. If you don’t, maybe don’t spend the extra money for a good Instagram picture.)
It’s a question that we face on a daily basis, but what happens when we put more stock in our online appearance than in how we actually invest our time and treat others in real life? Eggers takes it to an extreme when Mae puts her lifelong friend in danger for the sake of her SeeChange viewers, but when do our online choices escalate from entertaining to dangerous? We’ve already seen the effects of cyberbullying as well as the impact of social media on depression and anxiety rates. What is going to happen when technology gets to the point that Eggers depicts in “The Circle”? One must determine where technology advancing our connections ends and where living life in the real, tangible world begins.
A story of what can happen if you lose sight of what’s really important, Eggers plays with readers’ emotions and makes them question if stepping away from the screen is really the worst thing that could happen.