'The Circle' Shows the Future of Social Media as a Privacy Nightmare
When my best friend emailed and said "You must read 'The Circle' IMMEDIATELY," I didn't question. I looked up the title on the library web site, ordered an audio copy and went back to my pile of grading.
A couple days later, she inquired as to my progress on the book--the super creepy and terrifying book, she now admitted--and I assured her it was on the way and I would read as soon as possible.
Dave Eggers, author of The Circle. Image: © Beowulf Sheehan/ZUMA Press
When I started listening to the story of Mae, a recent college grad who gets hired at the Google-esque tech company, The Circle, I had no idea what I was in for. Soon, though, I understood why Shannon called the book creepy and insisted I read it so we could discuss.
I was quickly sucked into the narrative--despite the somewhat annoying voice of the narrator (always a risk with audio books)--and wanted to know more about Mae and her new job as a "Customer Experience" professional in the sprawling campus that comprised The Circle. I marveled at the social and technological innovations presented in the book--comprehensive real time health monitoring, organization-wide party rankings, universal e-commerce (hello, Bitcoin?), and extensive sophisticated surveillance methods. (For more and less detailed accounts of the book click here and here.)
Almost immediately, the book jumps into a satirical critique of social media and technology a la George Orwell's 1984. The Circle's emphasis on social broadcasting of everything from lunch plans to family health statuses to intimate moments seems innocuous at first, until it becomes evident that that type of participation (required participation, by the way) is just a tiny step in the company's apparent plan to take over the world by destroying privacy. Seriously, two of the key company slogans are: "Privacy is stealing" and "Secrets are lies." Sounds like "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength"* to me!
What I loved: Even though I didn't really connect with Mae as the protagonist, I was hooked on the story and could not wait to see where it ended up. More than that, the book made me think. Hard. About my personal technology use (oh, the irony of blogging and tweeting about it). About the uses of technology and surveillance in America and throughout the world. Of the social implications of diminished privacy rights. All that from a piece of easy to read fiction. Not bad!
Fast paced, well written story. Understand it's heavily satirical and relies on hyperbole to an excessive level, especially at the end (seriously, Eggers, the shark?). But really: Read it, read it now. And tell your friends and family to read it, too.
*Quotes from George Orwell's 1984.
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