I finished The Circle by Dave Eggers and had a varied reaction to it. It was part genius, mirror, and possible futurist examination. Attentions spoilers are ahead. The book opens with the protagonist, Mae, getting a dream job at a tech company that is Google, Facebook, and Cisco rolled into one. Soon Mae immerses herself in the culture of the Circle. She becomes an extremely productive employee of the Circle and embraces the cult-like philosophy of the company. Mae is an ambassador to the brand of the company. She comes to learn that above all everything must be shared. “Privacy is theft.” The book reads like many dystopian novels, but resonates with some familiarity given our plugged in society.
Some of us were outraged when we found out the depth of surveillance by arms of the government, yet at the same time many of us share intimate details of our lives on blogs, tweets, and status updates on social networking sites. Where is the happy medium? That medium ultimately is what we are comfortable with our particular digital footprints. However, Eggers gets on to something more insidious with the absolute need to share. Sharing is caring and consequently this also means that privacy is selfish. Transparency becomes the norm and this requires completely embracing the panoptican. Jeremy Bentham would be so proud or perhaps horrified. Would it be democratic, though, to make everyone vote? Mandatory voting does exist, but as of right now it is not facilitated by a social networking site.
Dave Eggers is on to something with the book, though. The want to share everything and also feel accountable to your community of watchers is problematic at times. Here, Mae’s thoughts reminds me of disordered eating and people who report their food intake on Mia and Ana sites. How would you act if you were constantly surveilled? The idea is that with an audience one would be on their best behavior–eat right, exercise, and say the right things. But, being on all the time is exhausting and some of Mae’s friends realize this.
The book might give you pause as you think about your own connectedness. I know that I walked around campus more cognizant of needing to be unplugged.
Eggers, Dave. 2013, The Circle. NY: Vintage Books.