Monday, October 7, 2013

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Trust me, I understand the weirdness in discussing The Circle, the new novel by Dave Eggers, on the internet. The whole book is a cautionary tale about the perils of the digital world. Part dystopian near future story, part psychological horror, part loss of innocence tale, Eggers has written a deceptively simple story that offers lots of material to ponder.

Dave Eggers
Here's the premise: Mae Holland is a 20 something with no real direction in her life. Her college friend Annie snagged a great job at the Circle, though, and uses her connections to land Mae a job in the customer service department. What is the Circle? Imagine a mix of Facebook and Google, an online world that increasingly dominates both internet and real world experiences. All of one's online interactions are connected through the Circle. Watch TV online on the Circle. Chat with friends on the Circle. Rate your favorite restaurants on the Circle. It's easy. It's convenient. It's fun.

Mae is a bit of a climber and naive, and she's easily influenced. Through a series of successes and a brush with authorities, Mae becomes the guinea pig for being "transparent," the Circle's attempt to document a person's entire life. Imagine if politicians can't have secret meetings with lobbyists. No corruption, no government shutdowns, no lies. No missing children, because children will have chips implanted, and the world is a safer place. Right? Mae lives on the Circle campus, and though going transparent has led to some awkward moments (walking in on her parents' lovemaking is a zillion times worse when four million people are watching along with you), she's become the face of the Circle.

Maybe Big Brother is already watching....
Eggers is making a statement about the lack of privacy in the digital world. In the world of the Circle, can not go kayaking on the bay without the whole world commenting on it, watching it, rating it, taking a survey about it. How much is too much? Eggers isn't arguing against the digital world, but he is making the case for sanity. Grumpy Cat is okay, but bullying people to death (literally) is too much. And the world Eggers paints isn't so far fetched. Just today, there was an article--which of course I read online--about the proposed walled-in community being developed for Facebook programmers. It's a brave new world.

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