"The Circle" by Dave Eggers

 

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Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Start Date: 3/5/17
End Date: 3/25/17
# of Pages: 504
Edition: Knopf 1st edition (2013)
ISBN: 9780385351393
Purchase: Amazon

Quick Take: disconcerting

Why I Chose It: I don't remember how I first heard about this book, but it showed up here and there over the course of the past few years, and I like to dive into a dystopia every once in a while to keep me from being too happy and optimistic about the direction of the country / culture / government / world / etc. Also, a movie adaptation comes out this year featuring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, and John Boyega, which should be interesting.

Quotes: (1) "And Mae knew all this to be true. She wasn't angry at the revelation of her allergies. Or her favorite foods. She had openly offered this information for many years, and she felt that offering her preferences, and reading about others', was one of the things she loved about her life online. So what had so mortified her during Gus's presentation? She could put her finger on it. Was it only the surprise of it? Was it the pinpoint accuracy of the algorithms? Maybe. But then again, it wasn't entirely accurate, so was that the problem? Having a matrix of preference is presented as your essence, as the whole you? Maybe that was it. It was some kind of mirror, but it was in complete, distorted." (2) "It's not that I'm not social. I'm social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnatural extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact your purveying. It improves nothing. It's not nourishing. It's like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You're not hungry, you don't need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you're pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate is so it's equally addictive." (3) "...individually you don't know what you're doing collectively. But secondly, don't presume the benevolence of your leaders. For years there was this happy time when those controlling the major Internet conduits were actually decent enough people. Or at least they weren't predatory invention. But I always worried, what if someone was willing to use this power to punish those who challenged them?" (4) "Surveillance shouldn't be the tradeoff for ... service we get." (5) "We are not meant to know everything, Mae."

Other Notes: If information is good, can you have too much of it? Is transparency an inherently good thing? If so, is privacy or even secrecy inherently bad, or even evil? These are some of the questions "The Circle" raises. It projects a future along the current trajectory of events, especially considering the progress of technology and ever more powerful and integrated tech companies. Eggers writes the dystopia well, and early on the reader is moved to internal groans and knotted stomachs as slowly but surely the bricks are laid for a dangerous and totalitarian future, with the masses unaware of what is happening, or worse, eager for it to come whether they understand the implications or not. It is disconcerting and nauseating in the way that a dystopic story should be. Above all, it serves as a cautionary reminder that we shouldn't blindly accept advancements in technology as naturally good and beneficial. What is especially eerie is that this imagined future is plausibly years away, not decades or centuries. The final twist / reveal is well executed, and while some might find the marine tank metaphor to be over the top, I thought it was dreadfully well designed.

*My reviews are not explicit endorsements (unless I indicate otherwise) - there are a variety of reasons I read different books. I'm specifically not endorsing "The Circle", especially for young readers, due to several sexually explicit scenes. I'd direct younger readers to "Brave New World" or "1984" if you're looking for a dystopic novel. That said, I did appreciate some of the 2010s specific considerations of this story, and the concepts are certainly worth thinking about. As I've already mentioned, the book is being adapted into a movie with a PG-13 rating...I'm assuming it will be less explicit based on the trailers and synopsis (it seems like they are cutting or significantly changing some of the subplots which might make them unnecessary).

 
BooksKarl Magnuson