Review by Dan Geddes
The Circle, Dave Eggers’ novel named for a fictitious Google-like company that profits from its users’ data and destroys individual privacy, is a topical and compelling read. The story takes place in a near-future Silicon Valley where cheap video cameras are being deployed nearly everywhere, even in nature. Doctors place cameras in people’s houses to monitor their condition. People are even starting to go “transparent”; to wear a Circle-built device on a necklace that records everything they see and do and broadcasts it via the internet — sort of like Google Glass is supposed to be.
Politicians go “transparent” to show their honesty. You can almost see the appeal of such a transparent society. Maybe everybody would be on their best behavior. The fact that this scenario seems both inevitable and nightmarish explains the topical appeal of this book. If nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come, this is a book whose time has come.
Working at the Circle seems utopian to the protagonist, Mae Holland, 24. (“My God, Mae thought. It’s heaven.” is the opening line.) She is thrilled to be working at one of the best and coolest companies in America. She hopes to climb the corporate ladder. She owes her job to her college roommate, Annie, who has risen quickly through the ranks to become one of the “Gang of 40,” the top executives at the Circle.
The Circle immerses us in its setting. Eggers recreates the atmosphere of working for rich data companies such as Google, Facebook, or Twitter. The Circle creates a utopian environment on its campus. Employees enjoy a dazzling array of evening events and may even sleep in company rooms. They can shop in the company store with its lovingly chosen inventory of products. Why would anyone even want to ever leave the Circle campus?
The Circle is a novel about ideas, especially about the continuing struggle between technology and privacy. Because many of the technologies described — the video necklaces or the microchips embedded in children in the TruYouth program — are easily imaginable, these developments appear almost inevitable. Even if convincing people to microchip their children may take a generation, children with smart phones are already trackable. We aren’t aware of new technologies not being rolled…