If you would ask me to describe Mae Holland, the 24-year-old protagonist of Dave Egger’s utopian novel The Circle, in three terms, I’d choose: naive, indoctrinated into complete oblivion and quite possibly a bit of a sociopath.
But that’s okay, because I’m assuming The Circle was never meant to be the story of the rise and strife of a loveable and relatable heroine with a well-navigated moral compass who saves the world with metaphorical guns blazing. The Circle is about what happens when people without such a compass are made captain of a sort of modern day Noah’s ark, saving humanity from a flood of their own secrets, masked by the archaic term ‘privacy’.
What happens when a corporate empire where all is known and all is seen, rules any and all? What happens when the Circle reaches completion?
Despite Mae’s thought processes being often illogical and unnatural (and to be honest not very interesting at all), the things happening to her despite – and sometimes even because – of her cluelessness, are very interesting indeed. I have to say I really enjoyed reading The Circle. It raises some valuable questions and may even provide answers, if you know where to look.
What sets The Circle apart from similar books about technologically controlled totalitarian regimes, is that it focuses on the start-up days of said regime and not the much more commonly written about moment after the utopia has already started or starts to crumble and fall into the chaos of a dystopian era, in which the MC then acts as a catalyst for change towards a new world order.
Instead the novel The Circle, as narrated by Mae who quickly rises through the ranks of a world-changing social media-addicted company also called The Circle, shows how an enterprise such as this – though born out of the purest form of idealism and innovation – came to be. Conquered the world. Enslaved and indoctrinated millions, billions. And all with the click of a few buttons.
I think Dave Eggers wrote a very relevant piece of futuristic fiction here, especially towards us twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. I myself am exactly Mae’s age and was riveted by the world she enters when hired at The Circle, which seems to have made into reality the collective dreams of our generation. It’s almost like a Charlie and The Chocolate Factory for new adults!
The use of social media is not only encouraged but a natural expectation, there’s a groundbreaking innovation in just about every field happening around every corner, there’s a positive sense of community and acceptance instilled into all, amazing healthcare, respect for the environment, no discrimination … These are the values of our gen. I know dozens of people who’d kill for a job at The Circle, maybe even myself included.
I’ve always been very pro social media since I’m not much of a real life social being. I’m a happy tweeter, a frequent Facebook-lurker, a bookblogger, I post my art on DeviantArt (without watermarks), I pin images I like and I love Goodreads … The internet is a pretty amazing thing, ain’t it?
But I do draw the line at stuff like Instagram and FourSquare, because a) it’s too much of a hassle since I’m a mostly pc-oriented social media-user, and b) because I honestly do not feel people need to see what I’m eating for lunch or that I’m “checking in” at a bar. I’ll never post a gazillion pictures of my holiday on Facebook either. Maybe one or two but that’s it. You don’t need to see every picture I took.
I guess I have a complicated view towards privacy. When applying for a job, for instance, I’d have no problem at all with my future employer checking out my Facebook, because I don’t post anything that anyone isn’t allowed to see. So that’s my stand on online privacy: everything is public so don’t post stuff you don’t want getting out. Easy.
When it comes to privacy out on the street, my view is more or less the same: I’d have no problem at all with camera’s being installed everywhere in public areas. As far as I’m concerned, they could film you throwing a piece of garbage or cigarette butt on the ground and a drone would fly up to you and fine your ass. Because you shouldn’t throw shit on the ground and make other people pick it up! So disrespectful, ugh (sorry, little pet peeve of mine).
However, when I’m at home, I value my privacy very very much. I would definitely never go transparent as Mae did and be very ‘Mercer’ about the whole full transparency bullshit. That’s some scary stuff, I agree with you Mercer. Sorry about Mae being a total bitch to you. She sucks.
SOME SPOILERS IN THE CONCLUSION UP AHEAD
To come back to the book and wrap it up (sorry about me derailing into the topic of modern privacy issues :D), I liked Kalden and Annie best and hope they somehow find each other and end up saving the world anyways.
Annie’s humour and manner of speaking was deliciously current and realistic, while Kalden was this marvelous grey-haired mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a question mark (even though I knew from the beginning who he really was, I think most readers figured that out pretty quickly).
Mae and Francis deserve each other and will hopefully get eaten by that awful awful shark pretty soon. I liked Bailey’s idealism and spirit, but men like him are somehow more dangerous than men like Stenton. Even so, he shouldn’t get eaten by the shark. Stenton should. Yes, this is my conclusion to this review: who should get eaten by a shark, and who shouldn’t.
NON-SPOILER CONCLUSION: A must-read for anyone into social media (community managers, I’m looking at you) and generally speaking most twentysomethings like myself.
Afterthought: I thought the division into the 3 ‘books’ was kind of weird and even though I usually hate long chapters (this book has NONE), I didn’t mind it that much here. So kudos to you, Dave Eggers, for keeping me entertained!