Friday, April 10, 2015

The Circle by Dave Eggers

As a novel this huge piece of work has almost too many faults to name, but Eggers’ imagination and style makes the experience of reading or listening to it a special kind of pleasure. Filled to the brim with fledgling discussions of privacy, freedom, fairness, democracy, and control, the novel has in its DNA all the previous great works who have posed the questions “What is privacy and is it good?” and “What is democracy and is it good?” and “What is personal freedom and is it good?”

This is a long but easy read because it brings us a glimpse of a world many of us have only heard of and yet cannot help but be intensely curious about: the campuses of the technology giants like Google or Facebook. The company in this novel is called The Circle, based loosely on what is known of the more famous real life companies. We have heard enough, perhaps, to know Eggers is not making all of this up: the campus, company structure, and internal reporting requirements are drawn (and undoubtedly exaggerated) from life. But the mania and mindthink of bright young things anxious to gain approval in a large, successful, innovative, and fast-moving company is perfectly believable.

Eggers creates a character, Mae, who unwittingly is drawn into becoming the “voice” of company philosophy. Her not-well-thought-out responses to carefully posed and invasive questions by the company leadership are too-highly praised and said to exemplify what the human populace really wants. Her soundbites are clipped and pasted to the walls of the media space created by the company as though she had expressed the unfettered will of all the people, when in fact, Mae had been groomed, prodded, bullied, corrected, corralled into making the utterances that became an command that can not be challenged.

I enjoyed Eggers’ imagination and willingness to engage the important subjects of technology, privacy, education, and democracy but grew weary before the end. This may be a great book for teens who may have a larger appetite for the glamour of high technology campuses and need a point hammered home by a thousand blows. Part of the story involves Mae developing a crush on someone she does not really know, as well as instructive incidents ill-considered sex with someone she doesn’t even like. These ring true, as does the celebrity side of Mae’s meteoric rise to stardom at The Circle.

Certainly the questions at the heart of Eggers book are not merely for teens. The pace and direction of our lives leaves little doubt that technology has changed concepts of privacy, celebrity, and participatory democracy. These are issues we need to consider now. Opting out of the whole system is not really a possibility. In Eggers book, the person that tried that did not end well and he ended early. Eggers also points out that our politicians are not going to do this for us, being “bought” as it were by corporate interests. This is up to reasonable people taking reasoned positions and fighting like hell.

I listened to the audio of this title, produced by Random House Audio, read by Dion Graham. Graham did a terrific job, especially with the Human Resources folk at The Circle. The absolute conviction in the right of the company to know all came through in their voices and gave this a very spooky feel.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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