Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

The Circle by David Eggers

The Circle.jpg

Like it or not, we are living in an information-sharing society. How much is too much? That's always the question, right? It really all started with Facebook and people sharing their entire lives on there, every mundane, minute occurrence. Photos of cats, photos of food, photos of babies, photos of babies' poop. Random opinions on topics as diverse as politics in a country they've never been to, to the latest street fashion penchant for butt cleavage. Checking in to clubs, to restaurants, to house parties, to car washes.

Who wants to know all this stuff, right?

But, more importantly, should we know? Do we have a right to know?

Short, easy answer: hell no! What the hell business is it of mine how many times a day my friend's baby poops? It seems like an easy answer, but in the world of David Eggers' The Circle, society has been convinced otherwise.

We're introduced to the Circle, an all-encompassing corporation, through the character of Mae. She is a brand new employee who has been afforded an amazing opportunity, by virtue of her good friend being quite high up in the ranks of the Circle. The Circle is a bit Facebook, a bit Google, a bit Apple, and a bit just about every cool tech start-up you've ever met. The story appears to be set somewhere in the not-too-distant future, just enough time for the Circle to be born, flourish, go public, and get their fingers into a lot of important pies that would make them hard to avoid while living a pretty normal modern life. A lot like Google then.

Mae is super excited to have scored a job at such an influential and innovative company and is primed to think the best of everyone and make a good impression. As Mae settles into her new job, the Circle is pretty quickly revealed to readers as being a bit... well, psycho, to put it mildly. In their quest to know everything, to have everything be known, to achieve the ultimate transparency and connection, what kind of world is the Circle creating?

So I've seen, through reviews of this book, that there's quite a few people who didn't like it all that much. Some criticisms have been that it's too far-fetched, too obvious in its message, not bringing any new thoughts to the conversation, poor writing, boring characters, obvious plotline, yadda yadda yadda.

I actually quite liked it.

Sure, it's a simply written book. The style of the writing and the dialogue sounded very much to me like the script for any number of launch videos for the latest magical tech gadget or software – you know those ones, all fresh and white and airily lit, with a super-friendly and calm (female) voice over telling you how much this whatever-it-is is just going to make your life that much better and how's that utopian vision going, by the way? The soundtrack starts and ends with a perfectly formulated, amiable little chime.

This book was written in 2013, and given it's a novel set in a tech company, by now it wouldn't be surprising if most of what it depicts was irrelevant. That isn't the case at all. If anything, in the intervening years, the world has become even more like the novel. Sure, a lot of us have moved on from Facebook, but there are many who haven't. Anyway, now there's Instagram (now part of the Facebook empire anyway) with its obsessive sharing of picture-perfect lives and blurred lines between sincerity and advertisement. But it's not even these two that are the most Circle-like. It's the tech, or more rather, the tech companies that have become so ingrained in our daily lives that it would be fairly difficult to behave like a normal person without them. For me, it's the Google-verse.

So far, this eco-system has not yet included video surveillance...we're not there yet – there would, I think (hope), be a significant uproar if Google started planting live feed cameras all over the place to capture our every move, not to mention legal implications. But I don't think it's all that far-fetched to imagine that the care-factor for such things will dissipate. Even now, when I suggested to some colleagues that Instagram was "listening" to me when I wasn't using it, the reactions I got were of the "oh well, if someone wants to watch me, I don't care, I'm not doing anything."

I think the idea that society could be won over to constant surveillance with promises of safety is quite legitimate. After all, how much of our information do we give over happily now, merely for convenience?

If someone promised you a better world in return, how much would you be willing to give up?