How much do you value your privacy? Not just in public. I mean your private privacy: what you do in your own home, your medical records, your phone conversations. How much of yourself do you share on social networks? Would you be willing to see everything you write in Facebook on billboard next to the San Diego Freeway? Do you care about any of this? Regardless of the degree of your concern, you should probably read The Circle by Dave Eggers. It’s 1984 projected into the cyber-corporate age, and it’s terrifying.
Mae Holland is an attractive young woman, bright but with low self-esteem who, dying on the vine in a going-nowhere job, accepts the help of her best friend, Annie, and is hired to work for a rapidly developing internet services company called “The Circle”. Almost immediately upon her arrival, she proves herself extraordinarily adept and susceptible to the company philosophy and, as we quickly learn, the ultimate goals of The Circle. These goals extend far beyond being a mere internet products and services provider, the company seeking to insinuate itself into just about every aspect of people’s lives.
As Mae drinks glass after glass of the company Kool-Aid, she assumes a greater and greater role in supporting the company mission and even in setting priorities and goals. All of this leads to greater and greater progress toward a terrifying, many tentacled expansion of the company’s reach.
In the past, I’ve read only very few books that sucked me in so completely that I couldn’t stop reading. Uncharacteristically for me, then, toward the end of The Circle I found myself unable to tear away from the description of rapid acceleration toward an ultimately defining crisis. As the book sped toward its climax, I found my heart pounding over the shocking expression of what can happen when all personal boundaries fall, and when there is no escape.
If you are someone who posts personal information on social media, who needs to feel connected all the time, then The Circle should be required reading for you. If, as I am, you’re concerned over increasing invasions of our privacy, then you will find that The Circle only reaffirms your worries over where we’re headed.
If Edward Snowden pried open a door, The Circle blows through it full bore. It may be fiction, but it’s absolutely frightening.