Dystopias, technology, and literature share an intimate relationship with each other. Dave Eggers 2013 novel The Circle explores how technology and unbridled ambition can affect humans, society, and government.
The Circle revolves around Mae Holland, a young woman who is employed by a technology company known as the Circle. Set in the near future, the Circle is a corporation that has revolutionized the Internet as we know it. Its founder, a young innovator named Ty, developed a code and something called TruYou that consolidated everything—social networking, online banking, online shopping, and the hundreds of other uses the Internet has—into one, easy to use system. This came at the cost of online anonymity. Imagine a world in which Google, Paypal, Facebook, and Amazon were all accessible with just one single log-in and all right there, but a world in which 4chan doesn’t exist. It’s a somewhat difficult premise to explain in a few sentences, but just try to imagine it.
Anyways, Mae is a new employee who becomes one of the most influential members of the Circle and the world as we know it in a matter of months. The climb up her ladder delves down into some intriguing questions about what it means to always be connected, to lose nearly all privacy—privacy for Mae towards the end of the book is three minutes of no audio on her super-duper high-tech personal web camera worn around her neck when she goes to use the bathroom—and how an “always on, always connected” attitude affects human relationships, personalities, attitudes, and mental and emotional health.
That’s about as much summary as I want to give. Onto the characters: they include the main character Mae, her friend Annie, Ty, the other two founders of the Circle corporation, and some characters who serve as little more than plot devices to drive home some obvious symbolism. The characters themselves are not very three dimensional because they all represent a trope. The only character with any real development is Mae’s friend Annie because the latter begins to realize just how nuts the Circle is. Mae’s development arch is basically her going from being afraid of being “normal and lost in the crowd” to bland to downright psychopathic and thoughtless thanks to the corporate culture she’s ingrained with. There’s also a bit of irony with her character development, but I’ll let you read the book if you want and make your own decisions.
At nearly 500 pages, The Circle is a very long read. It is also a very dense read because it is a novel of ideas. It raises questions about public safety and privacy, how much power corporations should hold over government functions, how technology affects a person’s mental and emotional well-being, and shows how scary a mob mind can be. The novel is full of symbols, from a character’s crooked teeth and transparent buildings just to name two of them. This is not an easy read; it’s a read I put down several times because my brain was trying to process what was going on because of all the hypothetical questions I asked myself when I was reading it. That and the book is so long, I needed a break from it. I honestly thought this book could have been anywhere from fifty to one-hundred pages shorter because I had a few “All right, I get it” moments.
The Circle is my first Dave Eggers book. Even if I thought the characters could be a bit better and the book runs too long, I still enjoyed it because I enjoy novels that raise questions. I highly recommend reading it, especially if you ever find yourself wondering how Facebook is changing how we interact with people and how it affects out mental and social health. And even if you don’t wonder how Facebook is changing human interaction, then you definitely need to read this book.