Book 6 of 52: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ “The Circle” is a narrative story that starts off as what sounds like a utopia, and very gradually shifts towards the other end of the spectrum, until we’re eventually staunchly opposed to everything described in the book, all the actions that the characters make, or are forced/coerced to make.
However, what makes The Circle great is how smoothly and gradually the world changes, leaving us nodding along, unable to gather enough energy to stand up and voice a complaint.
In fact, reading The Circle puts me in mind of a prank pulled in the TV show, “The Office.”  In this prank, Jim slowly adds nickels into the handset of his coworker Dwight’s phone.  This makes the receiver grow slowly heavier and heavier.  Dwight, of course, doesn’t notice until one day when Jim removes all the nickels – resulting in Dwight smacking himself in the face with the suddenly much lighter phone.

Similarly, the changes that we see in The Circle creep up on us slowly.  We feel slightly uncomfortable about them, but we can’t quite put a finger on how it’s wrong, why we should be opposed – especially when the characters offer such compelling arguments for these choices.

The Circle, the self-titled company featured in the story, is the ultimate tech company, a mixture of Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley companies.  Everyone who works for The Circle enjoys amazing amenities and benefits – but they also are subjected to a hectic lifestyle in which they have virtually zero privacy and must always be acting for The Circle, even in their free time.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about any of the characters, and they’re mostly one-dimensional, but that seems to be the point here.  We don’t need rich and detailed characters, because in the world of zero privacy, we are reduced down to one dimension.  Passions and hidden hobbies just become another facet of our “profile.”

In one particularly chilling passage, the main character is slowly convinced that secrets, all secrets, are evil and should never exist.  “Nothing should be kept secret,” she eventually proclaims.  “Secrets are lies, and privacy is theft.”  As I read this passage, I kept trying to think of a situation where this was not true – but I was having a hard time disproving the statement, even though I disagree vehemently with it.

In the end, there isn’t much of a conclusion – but again, it may not be necessary.  The Circle is intended to show us a future, not to solve it.  And for those who can overlook the at-times banal narrative, that future is disturbing and alien.

Time to read: 3 hours.  For a 400-page book, this goes very, very fast.  Most of the writing is quite light.

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