I found this book to be one of the more terrifying books I’ve read this year, or any year, and as my final Double Cannonball review this year, I strongly urge everyone to read and discuss this book. The Circle is far from a literary masterpiece, but I believe it should be mandatory reading nonetheless.
Mae is a 20-something in a dead-end job but with a close childhood friend who has made it into the upper echelons of The Circle, the world’s largest and most powerful internet company which operates out of a luxurious and futuristic campus in California. Mae is brought on board through Annie, and rapidly rises in the ranks due to her willingness to re-shape her life to meet the needs of The Circle and to guarantee that her very ill father continues to get the medical care he needs courtesy of The Circle. She soon learns that the “Three Wise Men” who founded the Circle have an ultimate goal: to “complete” the Circle, which –stripped of the double-speak and mystery—translates to the social control of every living being on the planet under The Circle’s mantra of “democracy” and “transparency.” Every man, woman and child will ultimately wear a camera and/or a chip monitored by The Circle, so that their every movement can be observed at any time. Political and social leaders will become “transparent,” voting mandatory, extracurricular activities and opinions molded and refined, and so forth. This will end crime, say the Three Wise Men and their acolytes like Mae, while preventing disease, abuse, and corruption and fostering democracy, health, sharing, contentment.
Mae finds herself spending all of her days tweeting and posting and texting, taking thousands of surveys, signing umpteen digital petitions, growing her friends network, defining her product preferences, and spouting Circle mantra to her ever-expanding global audience as she is catapulted into the role of visible face of The Circle to an outside world rapidly becoming absorbed by The Circle. Her parents and former boyfriend are horrified by the loss of privacy and individuality that association with Mae and The Circle demands, but all those who warn against the accruing power of The Circle are met with internet-generated smear campaigns, scandals –and worse.
I will admit that the encroachment of social media into every aspect of our lives and the way it has stupefied people—especially the younger generations—has me frightened for our future, but Eggers has done us all a tremendous service by taking us the next not-too-distant step into the world of The Circle, with all its Brave New World/1984-style implications.