Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Report: The Circle

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Dave Eggers' The Circle. It was a really interesting, good book. The premise is that a twenty-something girl named Mae has just secured a coveted job at a Google-like entity called The Circle, and is expected to go far in the organization. Created by a trio called "The Three Wise Men," The Circle's goal is to ensure that all knowledge is accessible to all people.

In order to do that, the Wise Men and the members of The Circle believe that no experience should be private, no information should be kept to yourself, and all should be transparent. Politicians are encouraged to wear cameras on their necks to show constituents that they aren't participating in shady deal-making behind closed doors. Tiny cameras have been hidden in public places all over the world, allowing people to experience anything and know everything — say, what the surfing conditions are like at that exact moment on any beach in the world — and also have the side effect of making crime basically non-existent. When your every move could be recorded, it makes it harder to do illegal or unethical things under the table.

Mae wants to grow at The Circle, and believes — truly, deeply believes — in everything The Circle stands for. When The Circle tells her she needs to be improving her social media interactions as a part of her job, she makes it her goal to be one of the best in the company at it. She finds ways to incorporate The Circle's social media and products into the government and political world, making it a requirement for everyone to have a Circle account in order to do things like make purchases or vote. For those who want to live off the grid, The Circle makes it nearly impossible, because the organization believes that off-the-grid people are "stealing" experiences from others by not sharing them.

Eventually, Mae is convinced that the best thing she can do for the organization is to become "transparent" herself — to share EVERY experience she has by wearing a video camera around her neck that records and stores her every move and every conversation.

(I've actually heard of someone doing this in real life as a type of social experiment. How frightening is that?)

You can basically see through the whole novel how what started out as an interesting, innovative idea devolves into 1984, Big-Brother-style surveillance in which no one has any privacy and everyone is brainwashed to believe this is for the good of the people.

It was a creepy novel, but fascinating. One of my big problems with dystopian novels is that, many times, I have a hard time seeing how "we" as a society came to the "solution" posed in the story (see also: Divergent, The Handmaid's Tale). But I could totally see how the events that occur in The Circle could happen, and that is terrifying.

My only complaint is that I really hated Mae as a character. She made such terrible life decisions and lacked self-awareness in such a major way that it was distracting. It made me wonder … since the advent of social media, have our collective social skills devolved THAT much, that someone of a presumably average- to above-average intelligence can no longer pick up on basic social cues? That seems unlikely to me, and therefore frustrated me.

Even with deductions for Mae's idiocy, I'll still give it an A+.

Have you read The Circle? Do you ever worry about the future of technology? How do you think social media will continue to affect us in the future?

11 comments

  1. I haven't heard of the book until this post. It sounds quite interesting. I am not really sure what I think about social media in the future. I honestly haven't given it much thought. It sounds like this book will make you think about it!

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  2. I hadn't heard of this book, either, but it definitely sounds interesting. I think your point about social cues is really interesting and I can actually think of a couple of instances where I've seen something like that occur online, though on a much smaller scale.

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  3. Funny! I just finished reading this book! Though slightly disturbing, I liked it. I was so surprised that Mae didn't listen to Kalden/Ty... although, I guess I really shouldn't be seeing as she was completely brainwashed by the Circle. I sure hope our future doesn't end up like this!

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    1. I hope not too, but the cool thing about these novels is they can (sometimes) show us where we might be heading, and that we should avoid it!

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    2. Definitely! Can you just image in everyone was "transparent"? Privacy is a good thing!

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    3. Hypothetical question: if we were all transparent … who would watch us? I mean, then your camera would show you watching other people living, and it'd be like a big hall of mirrors, right?

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  4. "It was a creepy novel, but fascinating." - that's the same conclusion my book club came to :) i read the book in just three days -- eager to know more and solve the mystery - and i truly enjoyed egger's writing style :) great review :)

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    1. Ohhh this must have been SUCH a good book club book!

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  5. Oooh, The Circle totally freaked me out. I was only a quarter of the way through and already ready to unplug from the whole internet. And all the emphasis the company put on attending after-hours social events? NOPE. This introvert would've been fired immediately.

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    1. I thought it would be kind of cool to have social events once in a while, but to have people willingly living on campus? And making it so important that each person be connected to 3, 7, NINE screens at a time? It seems like, long-term, it'd be pretty easy to control everyone just by the fact that you never see anything or anyone outside the company.

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