The Circle by Dave Eggers
Published in October, 2013.
What would Dave Eggers make of us in academic technology?
We are sort of like Google, but without the profits, free food, massages, stock options, and self-driving cars.
The author certainly has a bone to pick with the strange mix of techno utopianism and ever expanding privacy encroachments that make up the worst aspects of the Google’s, Facebook’s, and Twitter’s of the world.
The Circle is the fictional story of one Mae Holland, a twenty-something newbie employee of a Googlesque / Facebooky like behemoth of the near future. The Circle’s corporate slogans include:
“ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN”.
"SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT.”
The Circle is a flawed book that I enjoyed reading.
The Circle is flawed because Eggers’ doesn’t really seem to understand how technology works (his confusions around cloud computing are atrocious), and because he doesn’t really get how the culture of a Google works either.
I don’t think anyone working at Google (which is clearly the model for The Circle) would recognize themselves in the pages of Eggers’ book.
Where Circler’s are unthinking about their efforts to erase personal privacy and expose all data, the Googler’s I know care a great deal about privacy and the social impact of their work.
Nor is Google anything like the homogenous follow-me culture that Eggers portrays.
If anything, Google has too few of its employees moving in one direction. The place is too chaotic to be evil even if that was its intent.
Still, I enjoyed The Circle because Eggers gets some of his social commentary just right. (And Eggers writes well about a world that I am interested in.)
I loved the description of our propensity to substitute social media experiences with real experiences. In The Circle nobody really does anything, as everyone is too busy making status updates (zinging) and commenting on each others updates.
How long do any of us go nowadays between checking messages on our smart phones?
When was the last time any of us were really unplugged from our e-mail and social networks?
Has all this connectivity gotten us anywhere?
The Circle would have been a better novel if Eggers worried less about a Google like company taking over the world, and more about what happens to us when we let social media take up too much of our time.
We need more social satire aimed at the tech world.
We need some social satire written about our world of academic technology. (Really - we'd make a great target).
The Circle, while not perfect, is a good place to start.
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