In his novel The Circle Dave Eggers branches out into dystopian fiction. You’d think a writer like Eggers wouldn’t bother with a genre many contemporary literary writers might find too cliche, commercialized, and predictable. “Society looks perfect, but it all goes downhill. Seen it before.” But Eggers doesn’t go for a distant, war-torn future. He takes us back to the roots of modern dystopian masterpieces: 1984 and Brave New World. What we get is a glimpse of the near future that is—I’ll admit—more relevant than one of my favorites, The Hunger Games.
Mae finally gets a job at the world’s leading social networking enterprise: The Circle. Imagine YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google as one single provider of a single, multi-faceted service, all conveniently linked. Let’s face it—this simplicity is something we often dream of. Why else do we have a phone so smart it does the job of a computer as well as a phone?
The Circle and its center product, TruYou, has all the makings of a fresh, pioneering company: Dream campus, brightest and youngest employees—even the mottos run everywhere as inspirational marching orders: “Dream, participate, find community, innovate, imagine, breathe.”
It’s almost too optimistic. Is it the kind that makes you jealous you’re not part of the team, sitting in your workplace with its drab, uninspiring atmosphere?
I think we’ve all felt that feeling when we browse through our Facebook wall or Twitter feed, and we are hit with this depressing feeling that we are missing out on something.
So when Mae first hears one of those fantastic presentations by company president Bailey, she becomes initially enthralled by his declaration: ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.
We’re looking for this, and we know the warning. We know this is going to end up bad. But it is presented in such a familiar atmosphere. This is a fundamental human desire: to know. And it only has good intentions. We just want to be educated, be part of a scene, be given our rights. Bailey’s vision is full transparency. Bailey’s invention, which is like a Go Pro on steroids, is meant to prevent crime, reveal corruption, discover new things, make more available the already available.
And Mae thinks to herself “there is so much humanity, so much good feeling.” There are so many intelligent, good-hearted, motivated people involved in these projects. They are true utopians. This is a time when a better world really can make a better world. We have the vision, the morality, the enlightenment, the technology, the aptitude, the quality of life.
The only thing that could be against it would be the secret keepers—criminals hiding their crime, politicians hiding their motives, employees hiding trade secrets, nations hiding weapons.
But even on a personal level, we must be depriving one another when we keep secrets. Mae is called in to questioning by her boss for not immersing herself in PPT: “Passion, Participation, Transparency.” There is something wrong, something disheartening, when Mae does not use social media to share her love of kayaking, or comment on her following of the WNBA.
And this is when the reader realizes what Mae doesn’t yet. What’s truly wrong is society expecting people to share everything they do. We’re not even that happy when we do see everything. It only ends up either filling us with irrelevant information or making us jealous. We think we can see Mae’s issue so well when she cannot. But we may be sitting in the same seat.
SECRETS ARE LIES.
Why not tell everyone what I ate for lunch?
Why not get angry when someone hasn’t posted recently?
Why go off the grid?
If I don’t share myself with others, it’s like lying to them, right? Don’t I owe it to others?
It’s an attitude that pervades a circle of people. Where will it take us?
[Discuss more in Part 2]