Book Review: The Circle

The Circle by Dave Eggers
Rating: 4 stars
Published: 10/8/13
Genre: Science Fiction
Read: 10/3/17
Summary from Goodreads:
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
From the get go, I related so hard with Mae. I’m two years out of college, 24, in a job I don’t particularly care for, dreaming of something where I’ll have an impact, do something important, have interesting conversations, and love every second of it. So of course her new job with The Circle sounds like everything she, or I, could ever dream of, even if she is starting out at the bottom of the ladder.
“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of one you don’t, right?”
So right.
For her first day, Mae tours campus – which frankly doesn’t sound like somewhere anyone could actually get any work done. Gyms with every fitness class imaginable, sports, a multi-story cafeteria, a pool, green space, live music, meetings, social groups, at least one library. The fact that the tour does take all day makes me positive the average person would get lost. Frequently. To end the night, there is an on-campus party that sounds like a college frat party. This sounds like a pretty fantastic first day. Her second day, her first of actual work, goes very well. She learns how to do her new job, enjoys it, and finishes with a rating better than most other employees managed in their first few weeks. The next few weeks go by much the same: learning how to manage her job and the social aspect of The Circle – which in and of itself seems like a full time job. That’s when she meets a strange man, Kaldan, someone she is unable to find using any of The Circle’s technology, and she becomes fascinated.
After discussion with HR, Mae realizes she’s been keeping part of her life “secret,” and decides she needs to change that. She puts in hours upon hours into improving her social media rank, eventually making it into an elite group. Mae allows more and more of herself to be given to The Circle and to the public, becoming something of an ambassador for everything they are doing. She eventually voices an idea that will help complete The Circle, something the founders of the company, the Three Wise Men, have been hinting at, though nobody knows what that entails. As Mae and her life become entirely visible to the public, The Circle’s access and control become more absolute. Mae’s parents, her ex, and the mysterious Kaldan all try to convince Mae that what’s happening isn’t right. They urge her to do what she can to stop it, leaving Mae conflicted.
Not going to lie, I was kind of disappointed in the ending. I mean, there were two obvious ways it could go, and it went the way I wouldn’t like to see things go. Yet at the same time, the “worlds hope” was put on Mae. Mae, who was the poster child of The Circle. Mae of the sheeple, if I may. Of course she would make the choice she did. While I say that, I do recognize why the choice was given to her. She was one of the few who had the power to make a difference one way or the other.

This book brings up very important question, especially considering the direction we seem to be headed: how much of our privacy are we willing to trade off for benefits such benefits reduction in crime, prevention of diseases spreading, and/or technological advances that will make our day to day lives easier?

I personally would never be able to accept many of the invasions presented in this book. I like my privacy and I like being able to choose what I share online. Even my best friends don’t know as much about me as people were telling total strangers in this book.
I mean, yes, I can see how these benefits could improve our lives, of course I do. But would I ever, in any way, be okay with being observed 24/7? Heck no. Even the very first new technology introduced during one of Mae’s first days on the job, a security camera that anyone can put anywhere and give anyone access to, sounds creepy.
Overall, I feel that a big point that this book was making was that if we continue along a path like the one we’re on – spending hours a day on social medias, talking with people we’ve never met, posting about our lives, and living for the likes – we’re not going to own our own lives anymore.

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