In Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, young, impressionable and lonely Mae Holland lands a dream job with a utopian posh social media tech company thanks to nepotism. There she becomes fully immersed in her new work, which turns out to be so much more than just another job, it’s a way of life…and Eggers’ quasi-futuristic look at a corporation-as-religion is both humorous and horrifying. The Circle, like some parasitic mash-up of Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook is hell-bent on creating a world of complete transparency where cameras monitor everything, and every thought or notion that pops into someone’s head is shared ad nauseum on its social network. The intentions seem noble – education through access to every piece of information available, surveillance as a way to deter crime, and transparency of governments to create a true global democracy. But The Circle soon becomes a monopoly bending the populace and world governments to its will under the guise of this being the will of the people who champion The Circle’s causes through “Likes” and sharing. It quickly becomes obvious that not everything should be known. Eggers seems to be saying with this cautionary tale that there’s value in mystery and privacy is still a right.
Mae, unfortunately, falls head over heels for The Circle, and her connection to the corporation goes from whirlwind romance to abusive relationship. She can’t seem to break herself from this way of life even as she witnesses the destruction of friends and family. Eggers describes moments where Mae gets a certain “high” from posting, pinging, and liking across The Circle, where there’s a feeling of euphoria mixed with exhaustion. Yet in the corner of her mind she sees a tear in the universe opening up that seems poised to swallow her into utter darkness. And that’s what all this interconnectedness is…a black hole where synthetic moments take the place a real emotions and connections.
Eggers’ vision could take place in the same universe as Spike Jonze’s latest and Academy Award nominated film, Her. His protagonist, Theodore (an awkwardly charming and sad-sack Joaquin Phoenix), seems like the type of guy Mae Holland would date, and The Circle the type of place he might work. But in Jonze’s universe, Theodore works at a company where he ghost-writes handwritten letters – synthetic pages of falsified emotions – and he’s fallen in love with his new state-of-the-art and self-evolving Operating System named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who gives a breathy and compelling performance without ever appearing on-screen – something that I initially thought of as a crime on Jonze’s part but actually works quite well). Continue reading