In a not so distant future, Mae Holland secures the dream job with technology giant The Circle, a hybrid between Google, Apple and Facebook. The Circle has revolutionised the world and taken connectivity to a whole new absurd level with endless streams of emails, Facebook posts, like requests, invitations, surveys and tweets. Eggers’ highly readable and very amusing book The Circle paints an utterly nightmarish vision of the future, one that feels eerily near in time.
Wildly excited to have left her job at a dusty small town utility company, Mae arrives at the gleaming glass and steel office complex of The Circle, officially known as The Circle Campus (yes, to be confused with Google Campus). She is officially one of the chosen few, the cream of the crop, one of the most brilliant minds of her generation. At first, Mae is bewildered by her boss’ expectations. Reprimanded for not attending an on-campus Portugal brunch, Mae is at a loss and asks a colleague.
‘Did you go to that Portugal brunch?’
Annie scoffed. ‘Me? No, why? I wasn’t invited.’
‘But why was I? I didn’t sign up for it. I’m not some Portugal freak.’
‘It’s on your profile, isn’t it? Didn’t you go there once?’
‘Sure, but I never mentioned it on my profile. I’ve been to Lisbon, but that’s it. That was five years ago.’ […]
‘Did you take pictures?’ Annie asked.
‘In Lisbon? Sure.’
‘And they were on you laptop?’
Mae had to think a second. ‘I guess so.’
‘Then that’s probably it. If they were on your laptop, now they’re in the cloud, and the cloud gets scanned for information like that.’
Creepy…and so it continues.
If you thought your day was filled with cyber noise, pity poor Mae.
There were surveys, at least fifty of them, gauging the Circlers’ opinions on various company policies, on optimal dates for upcoming gatherings, interest groups,celebrations and holiday breaks. There were dozens of clubs soliciting members and notifying all of the meetings: there were cat-owner groups – at least ten – a few rabbit groups, six reptile groups, four of them adamantly snake-exclusive.
The Circle’s main innovation, developed by a hoddie-wearing, Mark Zuckerberg-like character named Ty, is called TruYou. Ty simply put ‘all of every user’s needs and tools, into one pot and invented TruYou – one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person.’ Quite a good idea, I thought…until I realised the potential consequences. And herein lays Egger’s warning. What seems like good ideas now, can develop into bad realities at the hands of the wrong people.
Mae quickly climbs the ladder at the Circle and goes to ever more extreme lengths to stick to the corporate ethos, at the expense of her relationship with her parents, childhood friends and her entire private life.
She rises to become part of the inner circle of decision makers, the Maoist sounding ‘Gang of 40’, and is the brain behind their disturbing new slogans: ‘Privacy Is Theft’, ‘Secrets Are Lies’ and ‘Sharing is Caring’. Meanwhile, a tall, brown-eyed young man with grey hair keeps appearing and disappearing in Mae’s life…
I will not let you know how it all ends, suffice to say that it’s unpredictably.
Egger’s writing will not blow you away and it is a story that should have been told in less than 490 pages. Even so, The Circle is a very clever satire with a darker warning to our internet obsessed world. And most importantly, it is very amusing. Definitively worth a read!
The Circle by Dave Eggers published by Hamish Hamilton, 491 pages.