Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Circle

The Circle  by Dave Eggers

This may be the most horrifying book I've ever read.  Okay, I know, much hyperbole.  Think of all of those books you've read that took bits of reality and pushed them to a very frightening and possible future.  Usually, in the case of Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World, and The Handmaid's Tale and the like, you see how what the author is talking about could possibly happen. It's not a clear, definite picture of what is to come, but an idea of a bad direction into which we seem to be moving.  You get a little chill, thinking about a future that could, but in all reality probably wouldn't come to pass.  The Circle is all of that, but much more so. I could probably write my own treatise on this book.  

The Circle is Google and Facebook and Twitter and Amazon and Yelp and Instagram and Tumblr and Reddit and so much more, all combined.  I've heard and read much about Google and the amazing campus they have in California.  It definitely seems like people looking to attain 100 percent attendance and a workforce that never wants to go home.  A workplace that is so much more than somewhere to go from 9 to 5.  Remember when you would here about big fancy workplaces with all kinds of luxury and recreational activities on site?  These were usually the kind of places where you worked so hard and so long that no one could use any of the amenities.  Noq, all the new internet sites started creating office space that is as much playground as workplace. They have special food and company stores and entertainment, even the actual workspaces are as much play as work. It's like they are taking a stab at employment Utopia. Well, we all know how stabs at Utopia usually turn out.  Eggers certainly does.

Mae Holland gets offered a position working at The Circle and she is the envy of a lot of people she knows.  The perqs and the benefits are amazing, but they have their cost.  As Mae got sucked further and further into The Circle, I grew more and more uncomfortable.  It's great that she gets free healthcare for herself and her family.  What's not so great is that she forgoes all of her privacy and is so compliant to whatever is asked of her, that I was insulted for her intelligence. Eggers created a character who absolutely would get sucked into this big fake scene. Mae is totally willing to become a mindless stooge so eager to please that she will forego whoever she was to become this bizarre cog in the Circle.

I realize the irony of writing a publicly available blog and claiming my desire for my privacy.  I share what I'm comfortable sharing and wish to share. I like to share my thoughts on books.  I choose what I share and no one should be forced to share information.  While reading this book, I kept having a nagging desire to live out my days in an off grid tiny house somewhere calm and private and lovely.  The Circle shows this to be an impossible folly. At some point later in the book it is determined that if you aren't sharing everything with everyone, you are lying and stealing from them.

How do you balance the ability to allow people access to places they could never see with the fact that there are places you shouldn't be able to see?  In the book they give the example of a child with cerebral palsy who will never be able to travel many places in the world.  The premise is that it would be selfish and cruel for people to deny the child as much of the experience as others could provide to him.  

The omnipresent video cameras that help to prevent crime and help the authorities to catch criminals, seem like a great idea... until you consider the fact that people who are doing nothing wrong, just going about their lives are being recorded without their permission or knowledge.  At what point do the security measures take away too much from people who deserve a modicum of privacy.

Every day we lose and give away more of our privacy.  Sometimes we do it voluntarily, knowing that we are doing it. Other times, our participation in programs and websites come with an eroding of our privacy. Eggers takes all the good and all the bad that comes with it and keeps moving inexorably toward a future where anyone who isn't sharing everything must be a liar and a thief. Of the three founders, the "sweet uncle" one is the most frightening to me.  He convinces people that they are their best selves when they believe they are always being watched.  What Eggers really shows is that people are the least like themselves in those situations. Not that they would be crooks and evil, left to their own devices, but that they second guess and choose to behave differently because they feel they are being watched.

The psychobabble and the head games that get used as management tools to manipulate employees of The Circle and the public are infuriating.  I've worked in human services and seen a lot of these tools being used.  The way people lose sight of reality to a not always very subtle nudges into agreement and compliance.  The lack of true awareness of self, through the guise of doing right.  Scary, very very scary!

The fact that this book, over a month later, resonates with me, every single day is a testament to how wonderful the book is and how awful the subject matter. My poor husband probably knows the book as well as if he read it at this point.  So many things remind me of it.  For example, we went to the Franklin Institute on Sunday. I love it there.  We went to see the Pompeii exhibit, because the whole Pompeii and Vesuvius thing fascinated me as a child.  While we were there, we headed into the planetarium to see the show.  It was mostly about the advances  being made in technology.  Of the 30 minute show, there was a really long montage of people with smart phones and tablets standing around, not seeing the world around them at all.  I have a cousin who reports regularly on facebook about how amazed he is whenever he has a conversation with someone who doesn't spend the entire time looking at a screen and tapping away to someone else.  I can't remember the last holiday where there weren't rooms filled with people not relating to each other, but only to their phones.  I wanted stars, but saw only the same strange disconnect I see all around me all the time.  I've said for years that most people seem to think they are the only person in the world.  Technology makes us feel more connected, but takes us more out of the world around us.  It's great and strange and awful all at once.  


Judy Krueger said...

OK, I have got to read this. I was hoping it would make it to the TOB shortlist. Didn't happen. I have 6 more books to read for TOB and then I am reading The Circle. Thanks for reminding me!

JoanneMarie Faust said...

Judy, I thought this would've made the TOB shortlist, too. I picked it from the longlist, got myself all worked up reading it and then found it didn't make it to the final 17.

I'm not sorry that I read it. There are little hints of it everywhere in our world. I get the chills every time I spot another reminder of it online and in the world.

JoanneMarie Faust said...

Judy, I thought this would've made the TOB shortlist, too. I picked it from the longlist, got myself all worked up reading it and then found it didn't make it to the final 17.

I'm not sorry that I read it. There are little hints of it everywhere in our world. I get the chills every time I spot another reminder of it online and in the world.

guiltlessreader said...

I have this on my TBR but never heard it called "horrifying." Seems like it ups the ante on privacy concerns online and is a good cautionary tale. Hope it doesn't scare me too much! Thanks for great review!

JoanneMarie Faust said...

It's not bloody or violent horrifying. It's that I see people I know and have known in this book. I've seen companies that get weirdly possessive of their employees. You see people engaging in this behavior every day, and it's kind of frightening to think it could go this far.