19 May 2017

Dave Eggers: The Circle

In an attempt to have a more timely quality to our blog, Meg and I thought it would make sense for me to review Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013) since the film adaptation is currently playing in theatres. As of writing this I have not seen the movie yet… it honestly looks horrendous. Meg laughed at me because we are working on a list of worst book-to-movie-adaptations and I already have it written down as one of my choices. The trailer alone makes me cringe, I don’t think I even finished watching.

The book doesn’t evoke the same gag reflex.

Probably the best summary of this movie was from the Atlantic:

As a satire, The Circle might have been worth a few giggles, but as a deadly serious drama, it’s laughable in an entirely different way.”

The casting also just seems very off to me, but enough about the movie since this is a book blog after all…

This was the first book I read of Eggers’ after reading his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) (probably his most famous publication). I really, really love his memoir, I think it stands far above anything else he has written, but I don’t want to say too much more because I still have a few fiction books of his on my shelf to go through (Heroes of the Frontier (2016) looks especially amazing). That being said, The Circle was an enjoyable read, but it’s not something I’ll go back to anytime soon. While reading the book you are often moving through it quickly because you want to know what’s going to happen next / what’s going on within this company.

Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know- they'd trade it all to know they've been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”

The Circle is an Internet company (similar to Google) that is used by the majority of the world as a search engine, etc. The main character is a young, twenty-something girl named Mae who leaves her crappy call centre job to work at The Circle (through an in with her friend who currently works there). As the idiot that I am, I was reading the book for like 75% of it wishing that I too worked at the Circle. It sounds amazing … free food, great healthcare, and all kinds of free events / activities for the employees to enjoy. The Circle’s biggest mandate, transparency, is something I can get behind. I think we should know what everyone makes for a salary, but I haven’t gotten into the habit of hiding my computer's webcam beneath tape… if that’s any indication of where I fall on the transparency platform.

Suffering is only suffering if it's done in silence, in solitude. Pain experienced in public, in view of loving millions, was no longer pain. It was communion.”

But obviously, the more you read the more disturbed you become about the total lack of privacy. This comes to the forefront when Mae agrees to take part in a “Facebook-live type” program. She wears something pinned to her shirt that is live-streaming her every move, with live comments from her viewers flowing in. I would immediately draw the line at this as a favourite PRIVATE pastime of mine is eating two chocolate bars in bed with just the glow up my laptop screen for lighting.

My boyfriend’s friend wrote this great post about the movie for the website The Outline, and he uses this example of a recent class-action lawsuit that I think really demonstrates how you start to feel while reading the book. I remember seeing this story on the business wire at work and thinking AT FIRST “just like all the data Facebook has on me, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.”

The lawsuit is over the collection of user information for this “smart” vibrator. The device can be paired with a phone so that when your partner is using it you can control the speed / intensity of it. So the app was logging data about when the vibrator was being used, and the what speed/intensity rate it was going at, along with the email address of whoever signed up to access the app. And this is pretty much what goes on in The Circle … every single thing Mae does is being tracked and collected. She starts to reconsider eating an unhealthy snack because she doesn’t want her followers to see. People stop masturbating because they don't want the exact details out in the world. The Circle believes that privacy is theft...

One thing I really liked about the book was that it isn’t your average technology-as-villain plotline where we see the main character suddenly realize everyone around her is a mindless, “like”-driven zombie, and that she needs to “get out.” Mae completely falls for what The Circle is selling. And I think most of us say we aren’t obsessed with social media, but I think it would be hard to find someone who truly doesn’t feel good when they check their phone and see one of their social media posts has a few new likes. And this is how Mae is essentially “conditioned” into participating in anything The Circle suggests of her. This is a line I often think about that applies to me all of the time:

[...] and because total non-communication in a place like the Circle was so difficult, it felt like violence.”

This book is easy to ready and is definitely a bit of a “page turner.” It isn’t self-serious and that’s why I think it works so well. Unfortunately I don't know if I'll be able to say the same about the movie.

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