As we move into an age where respite from a self-induced barrage of audio-visuals and virtual interaction is rare, most culture theorists posit that the complacent, distracted society in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World may soon be our reality. In Dave Eggers’ The Circle, the question becomes: what might happen if the corporations responsible for our ever-present state of connectedness decided to more formally run our lives?
Eggers’ dystopian piece about a fictional (yet familiar) social media corporation that makes an ascent to dictatorial rule is not necessarily a new narrative. The novel is self-aware in that fact, and seems to want to showcase itself as a cautionary tale. “We’re just a few years away from this reality,” Eggers seems to whisper beneath every monologue from one of The Circle’s charismatic leaders.
And in a way, I almost believe it; the technology ring at the center of the story does look suspiciously like Facebook, or Google. Moreover, despite the petitions littering the Internet clamoring for stricter privacy laws, we all still use the social media giants we claim to be wary of. Eggers simply takes our current state further—what happens, he asks, when we stop fighting it and start embracing?
To be clear, I didn’t find this book to be particularly well written. The prose feels clunky and stilted and Eggers’ protagonist, Mae, a naïve small-towner turned social media poster-child, never quite seems real, as she awkwardly flails from one off-putting scenario to another. But Eggers’ work is provocative, surprisingly so, and considering how popular dystopian fiction is currently, The Circle could have easily gotten lost in the shuffle.
It doesn’t, though, and that’s a testament to Eggers’ ability to present an argument. A slow progression emerges, as Eggers quietly takes the idea of transparency to an entirely new level. Bailey, one of the heads of the Circle, coats totalitarian ideology with the concept that “knowledge is power;” privacy, he assures Mae, is the stem of inequality. Why should one person have access to information that others do not? The idea, touted by the cool, comforting CEOs of the Circle, is insane and rational all at once.
Eggers presents an interesting mix of 1984 and Brave New World, and while I struggle with the plausibility of the entirety humankind being complacent with technological tyranny, I appreciate his efforts to combine the two schools. Where Eggers loses in quality of writing, he makes up for with a compelling story. Surprisingly not as preachy as it could be, The Circle is thoughtful, ambitious and definitely worth a read.