This past week, I read The Circle by Dave Eggers. It was the first book I’ve read of his and I finished 500 pages in three days. Seriously, from the first chapter, I was hooked.
The Circle is about a girl, Mae Holland, who gets a job through her friend Annie at a company called the Circle, which is a multi-media conglomerate and the most powerful internet company that the world has ever seen. Think of it as Google x 1000. Over the course of the book, Mae climbs higher and higher in the rank at the Circle and eventually becomes transparent, meaning she wears a camera around her neck at all times, broadcasting everything she does, every minute, of every day. She is praised for her announcement that ‘privacy is theft.’
I don’t want to give too much away but, over the course of the book, we see the Circle move from monopolizing the internet to spreading its influence through every one of the world’s major government. They believe that knowledge is a basic human right, and thus withholding information of any kind (be it extensive personal genealogy, medical records, bank statements, personal emails, and what we do in our own spare time) is not only immoral, but soon to be illegal. Their reasoning is that, by making everything and everyone transparent, they can dissipate all the judgment, all the prejudice, and all the corruption in the world.
The place cameras (some as small as a lollipop) without permission, to all corners of the globe. From the comfort of your own home, you can watch someone climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and feel as if you’re doing it yourself. But you can also watch a live feed of Kim Il-Sung Square in North Korea or the East Azerbaijan Governance Palace in Tabriz, Iran. According to the Circle, this can prevent massive human rights violations, as the governments of every country are under around-the-clock surveillance. In fact, they anticipate this to eliminate crime altogether.
That’s the big picture. But when you focus on day-to-day life at the Circle headquarters (which contains on-campus housing, dozens of cafeterias, gyms, pools, parties – everything you could ever need) you see mandatory participation in their social network, Zing. You see every employee judged on their social ranking, which goes between 1 and 10,000. The amount of followers and likes you get directly influences how successful you are at the company, and all of this takes every part of you to maintain. The Circle is controlling their workers’ lives.
Yes, this is obviously a story, but I couldn’t help drawing some similarities to the society we live in now, no matter how small. Every would promote themselves when they appeared on Mae’s camera (simply by walking in front of her) saying things like, “Don’t forget to follow me on Zing!” and the obsession everyone had with their follower count. One of Mae’s love interests (there were two) had her rate his performance out of 100 because he couldn’t comprehend her putting it into words, only numerically, as the only language he truly understood was that of algorithms, numbers, and symbols.
The Circle by Dave Eggers calls into question the role that the internet plays in terms of personal privacy, democracy, memory, and the boundaries of human knowledge. In the same sense that The Handmaid’s Tale gives us a glimpse into what the extremities of a totalitarian patriarchal society would mean, The Circle shows us what our world might look like if it was under complete control by Big Tech and Big Date. If you get over the first major jumps and claims that the book makes, you could actually see this happening.
There are huge jumps to make in order to connect our future to that of The Circle. Nonetheless, in the age of social media, this book shows a chilling usptopia that our world could become.