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The Circle

Dave Eggers (Knopf/McSweeney's)

By John J. Kelly · December 31st, 2013 · Lit

“It’s heaven.”

Those are the words Mae Holland uses to describe her first day at work at The Circle, a futuristic, high-tech consumer interface and the world’s biggest Internet company, which is at the center of Dave Eggers’ latest novel. Mae is one of a handful of bright-minded young overachievers recruited by the three partners who run The Circle (also known as the Three Wise Men). The founders of this fictional firm are aiming to create a better world by gathering information from around the globe using tiny and inexpensive cameras and the public’s rabid rush to participate by surrendering its privacy. Eggers’ fairy tale/nightmare vision of the future quickly descends into something that feels to the reader much more like hell.

Mae’s tech-friendly personality and meteoric rise at The Circle is facilitated by her willingness to become totally “transparent,” walking around The Circle’s campus with a small camera pendant recording her every move and conversation.

Meanwhile, the company’s success skyrockets as hundreds of millions of people sign on and also give up their privacy. The only real voice of concern through most of the novel comes from Mercer, Mae’s former boyfriend, who is among a slim majority of the public who see a much darker vision of The Circle as a totalitarian giant with slogans like: “Secrets Are Lies,” “Sharing Is Caring” and “Privacy Is Theft.” Indeed, this novel reads like a contemporary version of George Orwell’s 1984.

Despite the objections of those who hold their own private lives paramount, Mae continues to drink The Circle Kool-Aid and never doubts the intentions of the Three Wise Men. She’s the perfect Smartphone/Facebook junkie who can’t see the forest for the trees. As Eggers leads us hurtling down the cyberspace corridors toward this cautionary tale’s climax, we can only look on and cringe at the specter of The Circle as a futuristic Frankenstein monster swallowing up everything in its way. 

The Circle is a horror story for those of us in this Internet-addled age who, each day, place our faith in friendly seeming Internet giants that use our private information to influence the very freedoms we once held so precious. Whether we heed Eggers’ warnings is the ultimate survey question. Grade: A



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