This book pissed me off. There is enough interesting ideas about the rise of our “sharing” culture that seems to be moving upon us with the subtly of a silver-back gorilla on meth that I wanted to like the book, but after making it through, it was mostly a let down.
Mae Holland starts out at The Circle, the tech and social media giant run by the mysterious Three Wise Men. In this near future The Circle has supplanted Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and countless other smaller companies. Their corporate campus sounds like the typical dream job, with innumerable amenities at your fingertips, filled with 10000 people who are all just as excited to be there as you are. Beyond your job at CE (customer Experience) are opportunities to sample the award winning cuisine at the restaurants, browse the galleries and private library of The Circle, participate in the countless groups and forums (both physical and online), or partake and preview new gadgets and clothing before they hit the market. All you have to do is follow the ideals of the Circle. Slogans like “Sharing is Caring”, “Secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft.” Mae starts out in awe of the company as they roll out the SeeChange camera, lightweight, tiny, wireless cameras that can be placed anywhere in the world and instantaneously upload whatever they see to the Circle’s servers. This is a great opportunity for people around the world. When they think that they might be on camera, they’ll be “better people”. If someone places a camera on Mt. Everest people around the world can experience it like they are there. People can inconspicuously place a camera and check in on infirm parents from anywhere in the world. Dictatorships will have to be on their best behavior lest their human rights violations could be broadcast around the globe. Security systems can be smaller, more efficient and more widespread then ever before. After a small negative experience with the last use, Mae decides that she needs to fully embrace the new culture at the Circle, and elects to “go transparent.” She starts wearing a camera all day every day, and uploading everything in real time to the cloud. Everything that she sees, everyone sees, everything that she does, everyone can see, everything that she says, everyone hears.
It’s pretty obvious that Dave Eggers is talking about the future of the Internet, and how our information is out there, and not all of it is under our control. What bothers me is how it is over simplified in The Circle. Eggers is fairly heavy handed with how black and white the issues are around sharing and the culture of social media, there are areas where I feel like he’s giving commentary about how shallow the interactions between online “friends” are, or how insubstantial rankings and ratings can be or how having an active digital life doesn’t translate to living. My biggest problem is that Mae is a pretty unsympathetic character at every opportunity. Her ex-boyfriend Mercer is played as a technological Luddite, but Mae ignores his requests repeatedly. Sitting at a dinner table with her parents and Mercer, Mae brings up tools that she things will help Mercer, he asks her to stop, she doesn’t, he asks her again, and she doesn’t stop, he leaves the table and she follows him, and keeps trying to foist her view upon him, and she cannot see how he doesn’t want her(the Circle’s) help. She gets frustrated that her parents cover up the cameras that her Circle provided health plan requires. She can’t wrap her head around the fact that not everyone thinks the same way as her and the the Three Wise Men of the Circle.
There’s some subplots in the book with a romantic triangle between Mae, the mysterious Keldon who is involved with something at the Circle, and the safer but skeezy Jared, and Mae’s family medical issues and Mae’s conflict with Annie who got her the position at the Circle, but the book stays pretty close to Mae’s experiences at the Circle and moves along. I didn’t like the heavy-handedness that Eggers uses to describe how he thinks/fears the Internet is going. I didn’t like any of the characters in the book, but I’m kind of curious to see what happens with the up coming movie. Let’s see Emma Watson as Mae, Karen Gillian as Annie and Tom Hanks as Eamon Bailey… eh, I might see it. We’ll see Facebook/Reddit/Twitter thinks of it.