Up late with The Circle by Dave Eggers

I’ve been meaning to read a David Eggers book for years.  I know, I know, I need to read Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, since it is often called the modern Catcher in the Rye.  And, I have What is the What and Zeitoun on my to-read shelf on my nightstand at home. So last week when I went to the library, I checked out The Circle on a lark, thinking, I have a 3-day weekend coming up, and I may want a spare book around the house (not like I don’t have enough as it is). The cover is compellingly bright, with a C in the middle of what looks like a circular maze/joined paperclips. So I started to read, thinking, I’ll just read a few pages…and that turned into a few hundred more, and a few hundred more…Here’s why this was such an interesting read for me.

Mae Holland, a young woman only a few years out of college, lands a job at The Circle, where her college roommate, Anne, has become a major player. The sprawling campus boasts so many amenities that employees would never have to leave.  There are even dorm rooms for those who choose to just sleep on site after a long workday or a social event. It sounds like the perfect job at the perfect location.  You all know what’s coming, right?  Yup, social media dystopia.  The Circle invented TruYou, a way to tie all social media together–a way to tie all of humanity together, one profile at a time.  

Things seem to be going well, and we root for Mae for the first half of the book, until she becomes part of an Orwellian movement by the company.  Suddenly, sayings in all caps crop up, reminding me of Animal Farm  and 1984 simultaneously:

SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT  

This, folks, is why I would say The Circle is the 1984 of our time.  The events in the book are not implausible.  And Mae is not a protagonist we can really hate–we understand her, we empathize with her, and we pity her (in fact, some of us may have been her in our frenetic social media lives). What makes this book so frightening is not that there is one entity or one person that we could point to and say: “That’s the bad person.”  The problem in our social-media-driven society, as denoted in David Eggers’s book, is that collectively we have become a strange version of our true selves, and as we tie ourselves more extricably to social media and information, we lose our hold on ourselves and our identities from within.  

There are whispers of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in this epic study of how one person can lose themselves to the collective.  There are also heavy bows to Orwell and even Zamyatin in the text.  I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in a feasible look at what might happen when we try to work for the greater good without remembering sometimes individuals should have individual rights.  Although I warn you, once you read it, using social media might feel a little uncomfortable.  As I tweeted about how much I loved this book, I realized the irony.  And I looked up David Eggers on twitter: no account.  After reading this book, no surprise. 

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary for PCTELA

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