The Circle

The Circle - Dave Eggers

This is kind of like an updated version of 1984, written with all the finesse and delicacy of a horse carving a radish rose with a whisk while wearing boxing gloves. It's about as subtle as a hen party.

 

A young woman named Mae gets a job at The Circle, a technology company which is a mishmash of Google, Facebook and Apple - innovative (expensive) hardware, a pervasive social network, and an incredible campus with every conceivable amenity an employee could desire. We soon find out that The Circle is very interested in every aspect of their employees' lives, and Mae struggles to handle that.

 

It started well, the introduction to the company was intriguing, and some of the peripheral characters are clearly anxious to be liked by Mae, terrified of accidentally upsetting her, hinting at something off-kilter. But very quickly Mae settles in and doesn't do anything interesting or believable for the rest of the book. She is a limp non-person, with no redeeming qualities. A two dimensional vessel for the message the author is trying to drum home.

 

The story follows her journey from a newbie to playing a pivotal role in The Circle's dastardly plan for world domination. Yes, main characters usually have pivotal roles in books, but in this case, the reason she is brought into The Circle's inner sanctum is bloody ridiculous and frankly the transition from low-ranking drone to centre of The Circle is jarring.

 

I think the book is supposed to show us where we're headed with every moment of our lives documented via iPhones on Facebook, but it doesn't do a great job of showing us the alternative. Mercer, Mae's ex, is portrayed as a thoroughly dislikable lummox. You'd think that the technophobic offline-living anti-hero would at least be charming or capable, but all we see is Mae's negative point of view. Even his letters to Mae, which would be a perfect opportunity for us to see Mercer clearly, untarnished by her filter, but they're boring and preachy. If we were supposed to side with Mercer, he should've had a much bigger role in the book. Maybe he was just supposed to show a counterpoint to Mae, but it didn't feel adequate to me if that's the case.

 

It could be argued that this book is intended as a cautionary tale about giving away our privacy in return for shiny gadgets, and not doing things just because everyone else is doing them, but in the end I found it kind of offensive as someone who uses and enjoys services like Twitter and Instagram. With every blunt jab at Apple and Facebook with product launches for incredibly invasive services, my eyeballs rolled and I found myself getting annoyed. I'm not defending those companies, certainly our data is important to them - Facebook is free because they make money from our personal information; anyone who has any intelligence knows this. But we're not stupid, we just like to interact with people!

 

I suppose it's kind of ironic that I'm posting this negative review of a critique of social media on social media.