The Circle by Dave Eggers: Ludicrous, yet Believable

After a marathon session in which I stayed up WAY too late two nights in a row to keep reading, I finished The Circle by Dave Eggers. If I had to describe the book in one word it would be scary!

For those of you who plan on reading the book or watching the movie that will come out later this year, STOP READING NOW! While I don’t plan on giving a play-by-play, I can’t guarantee the rest of this post will be spoiler free.

For the rest of you, keep reading!

In The Circle, a young woman named Mae, starts working at an enormous, famous internet company called the Circle (which is 100% based on an actual internet company…the employees are called Circlers) where everything is AMAZING and then things get progressively weirder.

A while ago, while browsing at Barnes & Noble, I read the synopsis for The Circle and for some reason I thought the book would be about espionage and more like a mystery. I quickly realized this was not the case, but I still enjoyed it.

You’ve heard the expression, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” Well, the Circle takes that literally. The company provides a service that links your email, social media, banking and basically all online activity in their system and encourages/forces Circle employees and eventually everyone to participate. As the story progresses, you realize the Circle is taking over everything – from your social life, to the government, to your own private thoughts.

While the Circle’s activities are crazy and obviously a power-grab to the reader, in the book almost ENTIRE WORLD (except for a few characters) drinks the company kool-aid…literally. There are cafeterias on the Circle’s campus and all the food and drinks are free.

Everyone is OK with the Circle

For some reason almost everyone in the world seems to be fine with giving an internet monopoly unfettered access to personal information, constant surveillance, and privatizing all government services. What could go wrong?

The book is split up into 3 mini “books” and the first two quickly build toward the third much shorter book, in which Mae makes a critical decision. For the most part, I had a good idea where the plot was going and I wasn’t too surprised by the ending. At the same time, it wasn’t boring and I found the storyline compelling.

A Little Too Close to Home?

Somehow the plot it is simultaneously ludicrous and believable. For example, every Circler receives a Participation Rank (PartiRank), which is calculated based on their social media activity. The more you participate, the higher your rank. Mae is so motivated to increase her PartiRank she stays up til past 3 AM.

Here are some other episodes that happen in the book: Many characters get very upset/hurt/offended when they don’t receive an immediate response to posts, texts or emails, employees who don’t attend semi-mandatory company social events over the weekend AND post about them online get disciplined, and people start filming every part their days. Hmm…does ANY of this sound familiar?

If you dial it back a few notches, The Circle is a spot-on analysis of our social media obsessed, technology-loving culture. You can even match all the services and most of the projects the Circle provides to real companies that exist today.

And yes, I do realize it’s a bit hypocritical to be criticizing over-sharing on the internet in a public blog post for strangers. Obviously I don’t hate the internet (I am writing on a blog). As technology advances, we can more easily share ideas and information. We can stay in touch with friends who live far away and have our voice heard even if we don’t have a large, established platform.

These are all wonderful advancements, but even though many of us are more connected, we are also more alone. This book was a good reminder not to become so absorbed in the virtual world that you forget about the real world. Don’t be so worried about taking the best photo of the sunset that you don’t get to enjoy the moment. Get off your phone everyone once in awhile. It’s OK to unplug.

Photo credit: Feature Photo – Big Stock Photo, Shibuya Crossing – Mark Gunn via Flickr cc

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