Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: "The Circle" by Dave Eggers

The amount of information that people put about themselves online baffles me. Beyond the normal over sharing ( pictures of lunch, pictures of child pooping on the potty!) I (and others I'm sure) have seen marriages break up, friends falling out, and all kinds of other drama unfold online. And then there's the sexting and nudity. People, stop it. This will only end badly (Im looking at you, teenage girls, especially.)

This long and soapbox-y introduction of mine is for the book "The Circle". The main character of the book is Mae Holland. Mae has a dead end government job in the small, podunk town were she grew up. Two years out of college she really didn't things were going to be this way. She is saved from her mediocre life by her college roommate Annie. Annie went on to get her Masters at Stanford and got a coveted job at The Circle. (For the record we never quiiite find out what Annie does at said job, but she's in Geneva a lot).

The Circle is basically Apple. They don't come out and say it but it is. The sprawling beautiful campus is outside of San Francisco. It's made up of several buildings all named after an important time in history (The Enlightenment, The Industrial Revolution, The Renaissance) and there is a strong  sense of community. You could work at The Circle and never leave. Doctors, stores, gyms, child care, everything you could want is on campus, there's even dorms. This little forward thinking technological utopia is headed by it's 3 founders, jokingly refered to as the 3 wise men. Two of the men are pretty prominent fixtures on campus, but the third, Ty, is a bit of a recluse.

Mae starts out in Customer Experience (basically the call center). She does a bang up job and quickly moves up through the ranks. At one of the parties that the company throws (there's something going on almost every night) Mae meets the mysterious Francis. Francis had a childhood out of a Stephen King story, she finds out later. (Also she finds out later that he is less mysterious, and more creepy and perverted.) His project at The Circle is developing a chip that is put into a bone of a child at birth so that they can always be tracked, supposed to prevent abductions and the like.

 Francis's project is only one of literally thousands happening at the company, but many of these projects involve live streaming cameras.Unmanned, solar powered cameras are placed all over the world so people can see live streaming video from the Grand Canyon, Tienanmen Square, and the beach. They even have designed personal cameras that you wear on your person so that it shares your perspective. You can link the camera online and then anyone (anyone) can tap into your feed and see what you're doing right that second. This is Mae's new job. She wears the camera to attend meetings, events, talks with the bigwigs and more.

Things become strained between Annie and Mae as Mae's star really begins to rise, millions of people tap into her camera to see what is going on at The Circle on a daily basis. Things are really going Mae's way personally and professionally. She starts to have occasional flings with a man named Kaden, who claims that he works at the company but who doesn't seem to be on file anywhere.

Then things start to crumble a bit, even if Mae can't see it. Mae's parents cut off almost contact with her after a horrifyingly embarrassing camera incident. Francis gets increasingly weird. Annie slips into a coma from stress and overwork. Kaden starts telling her that The Circle is getting too powerful and the he fears that it could use it's power to overthrow the government. He wants her to use her influence to try to reign it all back in. Let's just say the book ends on a somewhat ominous note.

I liked this book. It isn't really subtle in it's preachiness about technology, privacy, identity, choice and what makes us individuals. Mae would get on my nerves at times do to her naivete and blatantly disregarding other people's wishes. I give it a 3 out of 5 for a thriller for a tech generation.

Also, I like the cover.


  1. *shivers* I hate reality-tv and don't understand how some can make their lives a video podcast and digital diary. I am curious about this and like that it sent a subtle message.

    1. The thought of someone following me around with a camera documenting my every move seems like some kind of hellish punishment!


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