Friday, February 24, 2017

The Circle by Dave Eggers

I'm not sure what to say about a book that gave me anxiety attacks throughout the reading. Is that kudos to the author, or not? But let's just say more than once did I find this book infiltrating my sleep and me waking up in a dead panic. I'm not sure if my age and lack of social media savvy is to blame for the reaction I had to this novel (I've posed it to my students as an interesting read merely out of curiosity if they will feel the same way, being younger and more tech taught than myself) or if the conflicts and paradigm shifts of living are what nearly drove me over the edge. The disaster is coming - it's right in front of you - OPEN YOUR EYES!!!

The Circle is a novel by Dave Eggers that mimics the front-lines of Facebook with its focus on social media. Not only is it the backdrop of the tech company "The Circle" - it's a means to an end of seeking total transparency for everyone's life. And that is NOT a good idea. There's a reason we don't all need to know everything about everyone - imagine the consequences, the utter destruction of people's lives (hint...hint...). However, within the novel, there are compelling and sometimes logical reasons that transparency would be a good idea - crime watch comes to mind. 

Mae Holland is a newbie at The Circle. She starts out her job in CE (Customer Experience) where she answers questions and queries from those using The Circle as part of their lives and their business. The Circle encompasses all - it's not just for smiles and frowns and zings, but for everything from monitoring the populaces health to their eating habits to their business success. Upon gaining employment, via her best friend Annie who is "important" at The Circle already, Mae is plunged into a world of transparency in her life, and dark secrets she tries to hide. Being sucked into this lifestyle, Mae struggles with her desire to be liked in the online world of friends and loses sight of humanity. 

The writing of Dave Eggers is excellent - he portrays life in The Circle as real life. However, in literary works such as Our Town, the stage manager suggests that one of Wilder’s purposes for writing Our Town was to document “the real life of the people” for future generations. The Circle claims to do this not only through "work" but through social interactions while trying to work. When Mae first begins her employment and finds herself overwhelmed with the expectations stating "...I haven't had time to do extracurricular stuff" she is rebuffed by Gina who has come to "talk to Mae" telling her, "That's so interesting you put it that way...we actually see your profile and the activity on it...this is how your coworkers know who you are. Communication is certainly not extracurricular, right?" - and Mae finds herself embarrassed (Eggers 94). People are quite literally not allowed to just "be" at The Circle. Doing your job well isn't enough, it is total submersion into an online life. There is a clear juxtaposition between a technological life and simplicity throughout the novel and part of Mae's journey in the text is determining which side she'll land on. 

The novel reads as a Juvenalian satire with harsh and abrupt criticism of the pervasiveness of social media in our lives. The programs developed by The Circle for "total transparency" (Mae actually ends up wearing a camera 24/7 for the world to see) such a TruYou, SeeChange, ChildTrack, StudentTrack (this one was laughable), etc...while in premise seem like a good idea, but in clear realistic measures, they are a Molotov cocktail for absolute chaos. The Circle believes they are pulling people out of a "dark age" but as noted by the Dragon in John Gardner's Grendel, "It's damned hard, you understand, confining myself to concepts familiar to a creature of the Dark Ages. Not that one age is darker than another. Technical jargon from another dark age" (67). This is a dark age to anyone in the future, and so on and so forth...we all live in the dark ages. 

Overall, this novel was a challenging read, but I think it poses valid philosophical questions. If it weren't for the random sex (why must there be random sex that is irrelevant), I'd teach this novel to students comparing it with works like Our Town for the contrasting ideas of real interaction and real life versus a life in the proverbial "cloud."

Eggers gets ☕☕☕☕from me, and I'm sure the movie adaptation starring Emma Watson will be just as anxiety ridden as the book. 



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