What if a single tech company began to encompass all the aspects of your world? A starving octopus, starting with social life, through to banking and shopping, health and parenting, all the way to national security and politics… In the The Circle, Dave Eggers paints an eerily realistic picture of where current technology and capitalism could lead us. A large company called the Circle, whose starting achievement was to regroup an individual’s life into a single online account – the TruYou – is feeling empowered and hungry. Hiding behind the false pretense of offering a better life for all, the Circle is quietly slithering toward a world it can control from beginning to end.
Into this reputable company arrives a wide-eyed young woman by the name of Mae. Her life, previously dull and lacking purpose, is suddenly turned around by the opportunity to join the elite ranks of the Circle. Her first days are everything she dreamed of, everything she could have possibly hoped for. The campus and offices are luxurious, sprawling, advanced. Everything from food to activities are free and encouraged. No expense is spared by the Circle to make their employees feel strong, smart and loved. Employees that Mae slowly comes to admire – is everyone at the Circle a genius or had her previous life simply been weighed down by dull-witted Neanderthals? It seems that nothing could ever go wrong again…
Behind this façade of glittering perfection, however, lies an ultimate goal and a unnerving secret. What is the Circle’s true purpose beyond generating revenue for shareholders? What do the three secretive leaders of the company want? The term ‘closing the Circle’ is whispered amongst top executives at the glorious meetings of the venerated Gang of 40… What does it mean? As Mae advances in the company ranks, she is faced with more challenging obstacles, both intellectually and morally. Her superiors question her relentlessly; why is she not sharing her activities on social media? Why hasn’t she participated in corporate activities? Where are the photos of her at the latest party? The blunders come in waves, crashing one after the other over Mae as she learns the basics of being a cog in a social machine.
Though each obstacle and event seems to reinforce her loyalty to the Circle, how far can she go? When her friends and family begin refusing to be a part of the Circle, she is torn between a job she loves and the people she loves. It is only then that she realizes that this is more than just a job. She is helping make the world a better place, isn’t she? If her parents decide to stay stuck in the caveman era, isn’t that their problem? She discovers new aspects of herself, most of which revolve around the beliefs that things would be better if everyone were sharing. Rising in the ranks, she becomes a sort of guru of the concept, promoting a fast-approaching utopia in which secrets will not only be wrong, but impossible. Many modern and relevant questions arise in The Circle, most of which we do not have the answer to yet. The only real concern we have to face is; when a powerful company decides it has the means to make the world a better place, should we let them do it?
1. The brilliance with The Circle is the simplicity of its seemingly complex concept. By taking all the tech companies of our century and blending them together, Eggers created the perfect giant, the absolute machine, the all-encompassing entity which will certainly some day come to be. Following Mae as she enters the Circle, we discover the immensity of the company’s power and reach. Starting with social media and then advertising, the Circle and its unified accounts slowly pick their way through to personal finance, international conflicts and ultimately, freedom. A simple concept, easy-to-believe and easier to fear.
2. Beyond being merely an engaged essay on the present context of social media and technology, The Circle is first and foremost the story of a young woman as she is sucked into a merciless vortex. The reader following Mae’s story, struggles and doubts, will also find a great deal of suspense. Though this is obviously not a thriller in the traditional sense, there is a page-turning element that makes the reader want to find out what Mae’s ultimate position on the subject will be. With all she goes through, it is a roller-coaster ride up until the very end.
3. Realism. Sheer, brutal, terrifying realism. That is all. Reading The Circle is like reading a horror story – though not the ones with monsters and zombies. This horror is subtle, paranormal, heart-stopping; the kind one feels when thinking, This could happen to me. This will happen. There is no doubt in the reader’s mind that the events of The Circle are so close to reality that everything will unfold exactly as Eggers predicted. The proof of this realism is the fact that no one truly knows whether to classify this novel as a present-day fiction or as a dystopian future… And our only hope lies in the fact that other farseers such as Orwell, Huxley or Bradbury were not as right as they predicted, doesn’t it?
4. The story centers solely around Mae and therefore her character is extremely well-developed throughout the hundreds of pages. Though The Circle is not written in first-person, we are given just enough glimpses into Mae’s mind to understand the inner struggles she faces. Her conflicts with employees are interesting, her troubled relationship with her past life is crucial to the story and even her love life is a part of the over-arching story. Mae, already at the center of the story, gradually finds herself drawn to the center of the Circle itself.
5. The countless encounters Mae makes during her experience at the Circle all lead her inexorably to the conclusion of the story. In hindsight, the reader understands how each and every obstacle and conflict altered her mind just enough to bring her to where she needed to be. Eggers paves the road to the climax extremely well and the conclusion and its repercussions are all understandable, logical and jaw-dropping. The conclusion is made all the more satisfying by the many, well-oiled cogs that made the story turn.
1. Though this may seem paradoxical given point 4, Mae’s character often feels problematic and wrong throughout the story. In her defense, it feels wrong simply because it makes us take a hard look at the lives we are living, the distorted social interactions of our era and the decisions we make on a daily basis. Mae, though well-developed (as stated above) by the author, is not likable because of the decisions she makes every day. However, thinking deeper about this aspect of the novel, this is perhaps because we like to think that we would not act as she does. Many scenes leave us bewildered by her responses, by her reactions, by her easily changing beliefs. But is this simply the reality of our condition? Has Eggers put his finger on exactly how most people would act in such situations? He might have, and that is what scares us.
2. Adding to the previous point, the brainwash going on in The Circle is so widespread and overpowering that it seems as improbable as it is realistic. We are faced with the same dilemma as for Mae’s character… However much we like to think that we would not be so easily brainwashed by a large corporation, who is to say that we won’t be its first victims? Aren’t already? In this notion lies most of the frustration when reading The Circle. The paradox between our beliefs – we know that totalitarianism is wrong – and the reality – we could give in to it because it is easy – makes us ashamed. As always, it is simple to speak out when nothing is happening and there is no threat to our existence… What will we do when the time truly comes? Ah, the frustration…