You know how you finish a bag of chips and you hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished.
About half way through The Circle, I put the book down and paused for a minute. I just couldn’t decide whether I wanted to run to Facebook and ask my friends what they thought of the book, or if I wanted to close all online accounts and retreat quietly into some place without wifi.
I am a technophile and I love measuring things – I enjoy new technologies, new social circles, new methods to map our days into easily digestible numbers (My Fitness Pal anyone?), and wherever I’ve worked in the past I’ve relied on simple numeric indicators to adjudge mine, and others’ performances. I don’t quite have the over-sharers zeal that defines many Facebook and Twitter users – but I can’t deny the almost illicit pleasure that arises from a peep into the lives of others. And ever since we’ve launched My Big Red Bag we’ve been mildly obsessed with just how many people are visiting our adjunct Facebook and Twitter pages.
But of late the specificity of the advertisements that I am inundated with scares me a bit. There is something almost Orwellian about how much the virtual world knows about me. And don’t even get me started on the frightening spectre of Google Glass!
At what stage does this reliance on sharing and quantifying, measuring and disclosing, transform from a social tool to a cult of forced inclusion? When you really get down to it, is that advertisement where Google unites friends on either side of the border life affirming or border-line creepy? What if you are a battered spouse on the run, and don’t want to be found?
Is The Circle a great book? No, although it is compulsively readable and often times very effective. But it is definitely a very very timely book. It is the story of a tech behemoth – a sort of Google/Apple/Facebook/Twitter 2.0 - that is young & hip & creepy-friendly, that manufactures its devices in China, and that rephrases the scary Big Brother is Watching scribe into the even scarier Sharing is Caring.
Our Point of View character is young Mae Holland – a ‘newb’ in the organization who slowly rises up the corporate and social ladder by doing more, ‘participating’ more (ensuring she ‘zings’ and ‘shares’ and ‘smiles’ on enough social platforms daily) and consistently watching how her numbers are tracking. There is a bit of Peeta/Gale dichotomy offered up in the form of dual love interests (the mysterious Kalden and the socially inept Francis). But the book is really about The Circle. The organization is described in terms that could apply just as easily to the world’s most benevolent cult or its most revolutionary corporation. What other organizations dream of, The Circle makes happen (but what do they say about being wary of what you want?). It’s idyllic campus houses inspired young minds competing to socialize over performances by famous artists, conceptualizing and developing world-altering solutions, and increasingly rejecting outside life for staying on within the Circle. Along the way – human privacy, human dignity and even human interactions are sacrificed for a virtual utopia that is one of the scariest renditions of the future I’ve read – more pertinent for sounding so much like the present times!!
The Circle ticks a lot of our boxes- a chilling tale of a dystopian not-so-distant future, a ‘hot button’ social issue, some cracking good prose, an eerily accurate rendering of working in a corporate environment and an instant quotability. Our one minor quibble is that Eggers seems so taken by his vision of the future that he often sacrifices narrative momentum for yet another chilling discourse on the ‘end of privacy as we know it’. This one gets a full five stars from us. I can’t wait for you to read it and to tell me what you think of it.
Or wait – don’t tell me, don’t read the reviews, don’t share your opinions about the book with anyone. Just decide what you think about it by yourself. See how that feels.