October 18, 2014

The Circle

The Circle by David Eggers
2013 Random Audio
Reader: Dion Graham
Finished on August 26, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Chilling ~ The Washington Post
Prophetic ~ The New York Times
Marvelous ~ The Economist
Gripping ~ The Sunday Times (UK)
Provocative ~ USA Today
Terrifying ~ Publishers Weekly
Potent ~ Time
Foreboding ~ Los Angeles Times
Powerful ~ Newsweek

Well, that just about sums it up. I’m not sure I can come up with another adjective for this enthralling tale, one which held my attention from cover to cover. Oh, wait. I just did.

I joined Facebook in 2009, and over the past few years, have added Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Goodreads. I never thought I’d spend as much time online as I do know, and after reading Dave Egger’s novel, I’m starting to reconsider my “social footprint.” It’s been almost a month since I finished The Circle and I continue to mull over the story, chatting with my husband about its timely implications with regard to social media, privacy issues and online security breaches. I listened to the audio production (read by Dion Graham) and was anxious to return to this compelling story at every available opportunity. The novel’s frenetic pace is perfect for an audio book and I caught myself holding my breath on more than one occasion.

On the appeal of TruYou:
Ty had devised the initial system, the Unified Operating System, which combined everything online that had heretofore been separate and sloppy—users’ social media profiles, their payment systems, their various passwords, their email accounts, user names, preferences, every last tool and manifestation of their interests. The old way—a new transaction, a new system, for every site, for every purchase—it was like getting into a different car to run any one kind of errand. “You shouldn’t have to have eighty-seven different cars,” he’d said, later, after his system had overtaken the web and the world.

Instead, he put all of it, all of every user’s needs and tools, into one pot and invented TruYou—one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person. There were no more passwords, no multiple identities. Your devices knew who you were, and your one identity—the TruYou, unbendable and unmaskable—was the person paying, signing up, responding, viewing and reviewing, seeing and being seen. You had to use your real name, and this was tied to your credit cards, your bank, and thus paying for anything was simple. One button for the rest of your life online.

To use any of the Circle’s tools, and they were the best tools, the most dominant and ubiquitous and free, you had to do so as yourself, as your actual self, as your TruYou. The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems, was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do.

And those who wanted or needed to track the movements of consumers online had found their Valhalla: the actual buying habits of actual people were now eminently mappable and measurable, and the marketing to those actual people could be done with surgical precision. Most TruYou users, most internet users who simply wanted simplicity, efficiency, a clean and streamlined experience, were thrilled with the results. No longer did they have to memorize twelve identities and passwords; no longer did they have to tolerate the madness and rage of the anonymous hordes; no longer did they have to put up with buckshot marketing that guessed, at best, within a mile of their desires. Now the messages they did get were focused and accurate and, most of the time, even welcome.

Final Thoughts:

The Circle is not my first encounter with Dave Eggers’ writing. I actually started Zeitoun (a nonfiction work about a man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who was arrested after helping his neighbors during Hurricane Katrina) several years ago, but had to set it aside and, unfortunately, have never returned to it. I now plan to go back and read it from the very beginning, as it was quite compelling.

If you enjoyed the film The Minority Report (loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name), or thought Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was a great read, this is just the book for you! Prescient, intelligent and highly addictive, this novel is one you won’t want to miss.

More praise for The Circle:

The Circle is Brave New World for our brave new world… Now that we all live and move and have our being in the panopticon, Egger’s novel may be just fast enough, witty enough and troubling enough to make us glance away from our twerking Vines and consider how life has been reshaped by a handful of clever marketers…. There may come a day when we can look back at this novel with incredulity, but for now, the mirror it holds up is too chilling to LOL. ~ The Washington Post

A vivid, roaring dissent to the companies that have coaxed us to disgorge every thought and action onto the Web…. Carries the potential to change how the world views its addicted, compliant thrall to all things digital. If you work in Silicon Valley, or just care about what goes on there, you need to pay attention. ~ The Wall Street Journal

Eggers reminds us how digital utopianism can lead to the datafication of our daily lives, how a belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule, how the embrace of ‘the hive mind’ can lead to a diminution of the individual. ~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A deft modern synthesis of Swiftian wit with Orwellian prognostication.” ~ The Guardian (UK)

“A stunning work of terrifying plausibility, a cautionary tale of subversive power in the digital age suavely packaged as a Silicon Valley social satire. Set in the near future, it examines the inner workings of the Circle, an internet company that is both spiritual and literal successor to Facebook, Google, Twitter and more, as seen through the eyes of Mae Holland, a new hire who starts in customer service . . . Eggers presents a Swiftian scenario so absurd in its logic and compelling in its motives . . . sneaking up on the reader before delivering its warnings of the future, a worthy and entertaining read.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred)

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