Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Circle, by Dave Eggers

When Mae Holland lands a dream job at the Circle's Californian campus, she is overjoyed. The envy of every other business in the world, the Circle pride themselves on their transparency, their humanity and their sharing. Always sharing. Combining social media, targeted advertising, payment information, email, personal details and everything in between, the Circle is the Internet and boasts billions of daily users and innumerable pieces of content in every form. Ran by the "Three Wise Men", it is information and it is communication. Among their numerous life-enhancing innovations is "TruYou", a single integrated user interface that streamlines and records every internet interaction and purchase- essentially a digital record of you.

Mae tries hard to fit in to this Utopian community that she finds herself a part of. She excels at her work in Customer Experience where each transaction is scored and rated by the customer, she averages over 95% in her first day which is something of a record. She goes to social events and updates her news feeds, meets wave after wave of cheerful, smiling people who say "awesome" a lot and wear overly casual dress. As Mae begins to gather additional responsibilities in advertising, product development, training new recruits, opinion polls, she has another screen added to her desk. Another information feed to keep an eye on, another company-wide score to keep in the top percentile. She feverishly posts smiles, zings, comments and photos, video, opinions about everything that she sees and does in her inner circles and outer circles...She absorbs herself in her online self, transmitting every aspect of her life online and backing up every experience, thought and movement in 'the cloud'. It's not long before her digital life starts to take over, before she cannot eat, sleep or pee without broadcasting her activities and whereabouts to millions of around the clock viewers. It's if Orwell had Twitter and could see where the digital world of over-sharing is going long-term.

I really enjoyed this- certainly a very relevant, believable addition to the corporations-as-government strand of dystopia (the one so often disguised as Utopia). Yes there were some fairly clunky metaphors (the big shark consuming the rest of the trench ecosystem) and in places the prose didn't really flow brilliantly, but the concept, the satire that might be tongue-in-cheek, might be a scathing critique of modern humans and the sheer menace of the Circle were all excellently done. The pace was ramped right up towards the end as the Circle nears completion- 100% surveillance of 100% of the population 100% of the time, through manipulation, scaremongering and brainwashing. I found the idea of the horror of life not just without privacy, but where privacy is almost criminalised and introverts seen as being socially damaged was genuinely chilling. I just wanted to throttle Mae though- alienating her family, her friends, competing with her colleagues and desperately craving the attention and approval of hoards of strangers.

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