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2labz's picture
Written on Friday, February 6, 2015
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Pros: chilling speculative fiction

Mae Holland got the job billions of people dreamed of:  just 24, Mae left behind the everyday business world behind and started at the Silicon Valley campus of The Circle. The Circle: the company that invented TruYou, and stripped the veneer of anonymity from the net. No more "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."

Mae started in Customer Experience, answering the questions of Circle clients around the world. After each interaction, she sent the client a survey; if she didn’t get 100, she sent a second survey requesting clarification and re-rating. If that one didn’t get her 100, she’d send another. Welcome to “complete transparency”… As she became more deeply embedded in Circle society, the screen count at her workstation increased: she had one for work, one for mentoring her trainees, one for a constant social interaction among her Friends, one to answer surveys to help guide her clients' marketing strategies – she finally ended up with a total of nine screens. What a multitasker she must be!

Mae had a little difficulty adjusting to the culture of The Circle at first. Soon after being hired, she found herself on the carpet for hurting a fellow Circler’s feelings; her affront was the sin of failing to RSVP to every invitation he sent her to a meeting and ultimately skipping it. Mae soon learned that The Circle is a vast stew of complete transparency and endless reinforcement.

Mae needed such reinforcement: her father was seriously ill and her parents had fallen under the spell of her ex-boyfriend Mercer, a Luddite who considered The Circle to be an insidious plot to take over society. Then Mae was caught red-handed in a petty crime; caught compliments of the millions of tiny SeeChange cameras The Circle gave ordinary citizens to scatter around the world so everyone could watch everyone else all the time. Everyone. All the time. The head of The Circle convinced her that her “real” crime was that she hadn’t shared a hobby with the world. Embarrassed by so vast a sin, Mae volunteered to be The Circle's first completely transparent employee, broadcasting 24/7 from a necklace camera to her millions of followers. After all, "Sharing is Caring," and "Privacy is Theft."

As ambassador plenipotentiary to the world, Mae found she’d become a celebrity, a talking head to help The Circle explain programs and complete its goals. So what if a few (human) eggs were broken to make giant omelet? She’s already rated it 100 on her yumminess survey!

Wow: how about that The Circle? Sadly, a lot of readers of the book seem to miss author Dave Eggers' point entirely. The dividing line between them and the people chilled by the concept appears to be defined by the level of involvement in social media: Social media addicts find Eggers’ work dull, those who choose to be less "connected" see an allegory for creeping creepiness in modern society. In other words, this reader was totally creeped out by the concept. Consider, however, that I’m less bothered by how the NSA trolls through my cell-phone history than I am by the 6-point text at the bottom of the iTunes EULA. Likewise, by the phoniness of the “friends” who gush compliments all over every announcement out of their favorite website (you know who I mean).

Eggers captures many of the insidious themes of online socialization, which he embodies in Mae and The Circle. It starts when Mae learns she’s expected to pester clients for 100% ratings, keep asking them to re-rate until they give up and assign her a perfect score. The level of creepiosity increases at every turn: Mae “isn't a good Circler” because she isn’t interfacing with coworkers 24/7. Her "participation rank" is abnormally low because she doesn't comment, rate, smile, zing, and chat often enough, so she stays up till the wee hours to raise her level of egoboo. She “spends too much time off-campus with non-circlers” – you know, like her Mom and Dad. She doesn't share everything with everyone.

It would have been difficult for the hand behind The Circle to find a more quintessential face for the company than Mae: she’s young, pretty, enthusiastic, and has one other quality that makes her precisely what the doctor ordered: she's gullible, stupid, or both. Mae’s lack of experience - or maybe she lacks critical thinking skills - combines with those factors to make her the perfect shill. Meanwhile, the readers can sit back and watch while she merrily assists in the destruction of civilization as we know it.

For you readers who don’t get it? Eggers hard-coded an allegory for the company within the story of The Circle: the shark.

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2labz recommends The Circle. Dave Eggers

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Category: Books
Author: Dave Eggers
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