I wanted to start reading again. After years of reading academic books, I needed to immerse in a significant novel which I would remember. So, when Beppe told me about The Circle and the issues addressed by Dave Eggers, it immediately raised a specific interest in me. I have so much in common with the main character: same age, similar professional situation and hobbies. But most importantly, the main topic of the book is a matter I have been extremely concerned about lately: the unmanageable mass of personal data spread through social media and collected by multinational technology companies.
I went to a bookshop during one of my Christmas shopping sprees and immediately saw the book – it was too obvious to miss it with its striking orange cover. The temptation was too high and I bought it. I needed a travel companion for my train ride back home anyway. And I started to read even before crossing Rotterdam.
Mae Holland, a young graduate, starts working at The Circle, the most influential technology company, thanks to her best friend who reached a managing position there. The working environment is fascinating. The company has expanded so much that it transformed into a campus with everything needed (from the latest high tech computers to gyms, health services and dorms), so employees basically don’t need to step out (or is it to prevent them from escaping?). Slowly however, her dream job gets out of control.
Throughout the book, The Circle’s geniuses are trying to develop new tools integrated in their powerful social network. Most of the time first experimented on the employees, these “plug-ins” are connected to the person via a chip, bracelet, necklace or other device, and enable The Circle to collect and share the data intended for innovation enhancement. It ends up touching every aspect of people’s life and society: health, safety, justice, education, history, politics, culture, “democracy”, etc.
“SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT”
Would the world be improved if everybody had access to other people’s information, knowledge and personal data? Would the search for specific facts and innovation development be easier with shared input? By the middle of the book, cameras are installed in more and more places worldwide, from natural areas to urban crowds, and every single change is viewable from home. Mae has 6 computer screens standing on her desk through which she is active and competes all day long on various social media. She’s checked on her health via a bracelet, wears a necklace camera connected to millions of viewers and is being surveyed through earplugs all day long. And this is without taking her real job into account. How could possibly a human being (or rather a robot) be able to multitask to this extent?
The author made a clear opposition between two different groups of characters revealed along the story, reflecting on the 2 little voices we all have in our head when dealing with new technologies:
⊗ Those on the side of The Circle, who would do everything to be seen and remembered because they fear being insignificant in this infinite world
⊗ The outsiders who realise that this unstoppable process runs the world and conveys nothing else but madness
“WE MUST ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO DISAPPEAR”
To me, this book is a pertinent exaggeration of today’s reality without falling on a too dark side, and a good comparison to our so-called market leaders. Through distorted examples of worldwide domination, Dave Eggers leads us towards paying more attention to our virtual identity as well as admitting that we cannot know everything or see the whole world. But sadly, there is no exit to a complete circle shape.