After reading The Circle, the most prominent thought that crossed my mind was ‘How had I never heard of Dave Eggers until this year?’ More importantly, and far more fangirl-y, why hadn’t I read his amazing works BEFORE he came to the Melbourne Writers Festival (which occurred earlier this year), so that when I had the opportunity to stalk and/or throw myself at him (intellectually speaking of course), I had taken it? Stupid, stupid girl.
The Circle is a somewhat dystopian novel set in the near future where social media and the digital age have overtaken our lives. When Mae Holland gets a job at the world’s most powerful internet company, The Circle, she feels as though she has hit the jackpot. The work is rewarding, the pay is great, and the ‘campus’ where she works has everything that she needs – food, entertainment and even an apartment. Heck, she’s even in love with her bosses, particularly when they come up with innovative, life-changing (for better or worse) technologies, like the SeeChange cameras.
Pretty soon though, Mae starts to be controlled by The Circle in more ways than one – it isn’t just about working more than her 9 – 5 hours, it’s about interacting online and improving her ‘social networking’ on the Internet. Why is Mae spending the weekend with her ill father (who has MS), when she could have spent her weekend socialising with colleagues? Why isn’t she posting online her experiences with kayaking – does she not think that others deserve to observe and experience the same things she can? As the technologies develop, and The Circle’s power starts to take over Mae and her family, it becomes clear – if The Circle (in more ways that one) is ever completed, will that be the end of human free will?
A dark satire that hits a little too close to home, Dave Egger’s The Circle is a grim look at the future of the Internet and the concept of free will. Though that’s an idea that has been re-used time and again by writers, The Circle was so compelling because of its authenticity. Luckily for me, I read this while I was on holidays and thus could spend hours getting absorbed by it – luckily, because I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had the time to read it in a few short days.
What is most gripping about The Circle is that, although it is melodramatic and futuristic, it’s also scarily true. While reading about The Circle and its innovations, it becomes easy to get wrapped up in the notion that everything should be shared together. After all, why should Mae have the opportunity to kayak and not share that with others, particularly others that may never get the chance to kayak? Why wouldn’t we want to use technology that allows us to determine when we’re about to get sick…before we’ve even gotten sick? Doesn’t that sound like a utopian future?
Yet of course, as soon as one contemplates it for more than a minute, it becomes terrifyingly clear that free will, privacy and human rights exist for a reason – human beings, for better or worse, do not exist for the sake of the greater public, and forcing them into doing so does not necessarily make them ‘good people’.
Perhaps what is most impressive though about The Circle is that, although it was released only a year ago, already it is foreseeing aspects of technology that have just been released. For example, with the latest release of smart phones, users now have the ability to wear a wristwatch that not only connects them to their phone at all times, but it also records calorie intake, pulse and blood pressure. Sounds scarily familiar to the wristwatches worn by those who work at The Circle.
Of course, aside from the storyline, what makes The Circle is Dave Egger’s compelling style of writing. Although there are definitely metaphors and satire throughout The Circle, what I love best about his writing is that it is both gripping and intellectual. At no stage did I feel exhausted reading his novel, but at the same time I felt as though I was also being mentally stimulated at the same time. Not necessarily an easy task for an author.
I would definitely recommend reading The Circle, if only for a somewhat bitter perspective on our reliance on technology. Though it brings up age-old questions about free will and the right to privacy, Eggers has done so in a way that is original and authentic.
Have you read The Circle or anything by Dave Eggers? What do you think will happen with technology in the future? Let me know!