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A Review of "The Circle" by Dave Eggers

Updated on February 15, 2015

Dave Eggers

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A Cautionary Tale

In In today’s information age, Dave Eggers’ novel about (technological plutocracy) serves as a warning against the dangers of total transparency. Since the mid-twentieth century, Americans have vehemently sought ways to make life easier and to make goods and services more convenient. As a result, new businesses and newer technologies have sprung up in order to fulfil public demand. In some cases, newer technologies are created for the sole purpose of amassing capital by convincing people that the product is a need. In the case of The Circle, Eggers’ imaginary technological hub, the company hosts a bevy of unique inventions created by burgeoning young inventors that are designed to make life easier and more pleasant. Initially, like many technological inventions in today’s world, many people are aesthetically drawn to the wonder of some of these inventions, for instance, in the novel, the invention of a small camera called SeeChange that can be placed anywhere and hidden from view, but powerful enough to pick up every detail. The rationale for such an invention—which is a clear violation of personal privacy-- is to put an end to hidden human rights abuses.

The protagonist of the story, Mae Holland, starts out as a bored college grads stuck in a dead end job with no future prospects and no hope for advancement. Through a close personal connection in the company, her best friend, Annie, she is able to land a position in The Circle’s Customer Experience department—the equivalent to a customer service position. Annie is a former college roommate of Mae’s and is a fixture in The Circle’s Gang of 40—an executive position in the company. As for any new recruit, or “newbie,” as they are referred to in the story, things start off a little shaky. For Mae, there is a driving need to fit in and to perform well. Upon reading, it appears as if some of the veteran staffers at The Circle tend to take advantage of such vulnerability by applying mild pressure to Mae as she struggles to keep up with the demands of the company. One of the primary demands of the company is to maintain full transparency as often as humanly possible. As Mae rises through the ranks of the company, she becomes fully “transparent”—with the exception of a three minute hiatus for a bathroom break. The catalyst for her becoming fully transparent sprang directly from her driving need to conform to company standards for the sake of keeping her job, which she is grateful for to a fault. It also appears that many of The Circle’s employees are easily won over by new inventions and never seem to question the validity of the true purpose for those inventions—being that they are geniuses and all! Mae, being in a vulnerable position as a “newbie,” likewise sees no need to question. This also highlights the depths of Mae’s naiveté based on her background and personal drive. Having a company physical is another requirement of employment at The Circle. The company doctor, Dr.Villalobos, who also appears to be a physically seductive character in the novel, is able to smooth talk Mae into swallowing a microchip in order to help her manage her good health. Naturally, Mae would want to do such a thing being that she knows she’s genetically predisposed to certain family traits. Her father is battling MS . After Mae unwittingly swallows the microchip, the doctor then rationalizes the need for such a device. Mae goes along without question although she is clearly taken aback. Much of the rationale for the curious inventions in this novel is quite twisted, but valid when it concerns profit margin and control.

Mae’s drive for acceptance blinds her to the reality of the dangers of (total transparency) so much that when she tries to aid the people around her through her connection to The Circle, she unwittingly places them in a compromising position--to give up their personal privacy, and eventually their freedom, in order to partake of the company’s benefits—her father, health insurance; her ex-boyfriend , Mercer, a chance to expand his business; and Ty, the brains behind The Circle and one of the top three creators of the company, a chance to dismantle the global, privacy-invading monster the company had become. Her friend Annie suffers, as well. Trying to follow Mae’s lead in order to settle a jealous rivalry, she volunteers to be a guinea pig for a family-tracing project called PastPerfect. The invention, in turn, reveals horrible truths about Annie’s family history all the way down to her parents; much to her surprise since she was under the impression much of her family were upstanding members of society who came over on the Mayflower.

In correlation, within the last two centuries, the world has progressed both industrially and economically. Life in the Western industrialized world has been made easier and more comfortable and in many ways, more decadent. But to every creative and practical invention, there is a downside—a sacrifice that must be made in order to enjoy the fruits of such genius. Like the Three Wise Men, the elite triad of The Circle, many of the world’s elite are able to amass and maintain great wealth and power at the expense of the public by manipulating certain kinds of human appeal. In this sense, (Eggers)’ novel serves as a cautionary tale letting us know that to have the freedom to question is a privilege that renders the greater results and to always seek to understand ulterior motives.

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© 2014 Dana Ayres

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