If you ask me what my perfect Sunday is, it would be a day I can binge read whatever fictions that I want to read. But for the past few Sundays I had not been able to read leisurely without feeling guilty due to my work. Amidst some urgent work that had to be attended to, I read The Circle by Dave Eggers and Ghosts by Dolly Alderton.
The Circle is a dystopian novel written by Dave Eggers.
Mae Holland is a young graduate and with the help of her good friend, Annie Allerton, she lands herself a job at the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. Annie, her good friend from college is the senior executive at the Circle. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, designed with open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, cozy dorms for employees and a model image of modernity and technology. The Circle links users’ personal emails, social media profiles, preferences, their payment systems, banking and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity known as TruYou — one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person for the rest of your life online. Ty, born Tyler Alexander Gospodinov was the first founder who had first invented the system. ‘Ty realized he was, at best, socially awkward, and at worst an utter interpersonal disaster.’ So just before the company’s IPO, he hired Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton, with them on board, the IPO raised $3 billion. Ty is then free to float, to hide and to disappear. TruYou is Ty’s innovations but Eamon and Tom who have the business acumen monetize the innovations. The Circle has changed the internet, in toto. It is about a new age of civility and transparency where the general public willingly and enthusiastically surrenders the right to privacy. Exchanges are based on social media smiles and frowns (likes and dislikes). With their innovations of SeeChange, lollipop-sized, wireless, real-time video cameras that can be placed anywhere around the globe, ChildTrack microchips that can be embedded in the bones of children, the Circle reigns over data tracking in the name of transparency and eliminating crimes. “ All that happens must be known”, “sharing is caring”, “privacy is theft” and “ secrets are lies” are the mottos of the company. In order to get votes, the Circle becomes popular with politicians and in reality , the company’s true intentions is to complete the Circle by making membership and subscription to the Circle mandatory so you can track people from cradle to grave and their lineage.
At the Circle, all employees are expected to be social and they are being profiled according to their personal interests and preferences which are openly shared between colleagues. Life at the Campus is not only about work, there are always parties that last through the night, famous musicians playing one the lawn, sporting activities, clubs, brunches for employees to participate for free. Mae finds that not only she gets full medical benefits like everyone else, even her parents’ health insurances are taken care of. As the story progresses, she is really sold all those concepts that are being developed by the founders and the team. Mae adapts quickly to the fast-paced work culture and environment filled with constant barrage of screens that demand her full attention, she becomes the voice and public face of the Circle who films and record every aspect of her day.
When it becomes apparent that The Circle has become uncontrollable, Mae, will perhaps, learn too late that the Circle cannot be stopped. She is confronted with a choice to make known the Circle’s true intentions and her power to support or undermine its vision.
Due to her willingness to participate in all the ever-expanding programmes for openness with SeeChange cameras around her parents’ home against her parents’ will, they decide to move away and Mae becomes estranged from her own parents to whom she used to be close. She also angers her ex-boyfriend, Mercer who does not need unsolicited help from Mae who is eager to show him how he can expand his business through the Circle. He tries in every way to flee from all the surveillances but Mae’s competitiveness will not stop her from trying to convince him to surrender to the tools.
The fiction was published in 2013 and it is about the near future. Its theme is akin to what is depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four written by George Orwell. Looking at how technology advances, the story in The Circle is not far removed from what is happening today. We need to think about the ramifications of the development of such tools and what these tools might implicate on democracy, privacy and free will. Is it necessary to overshare information when not everyone is equipped with the resources and the ability to analyse let alone verify these information?
Identity is as much fluid as it is personal. I shudder to think about living in a world where you are constantly being watched and you are compelled to be on your best behaviour or a behaviour that is regarded by the rest of the world as normal behaviour. Who gets to be the judge? Can you relax when you walk around knowing that you are being watched through a hidden camera at every minute of the day? Tools and new technology are invented with the best of intentions but when ambition, vanity and monetary gains are in the mix, those with the means and power will make use of the tools and technology to further enrich themselves and become even more powerful and continue to reign and dominate while the rest of the world try to keep up with fast growing technology and our minds made up for us leaving us hardly any options but endeavour to navigate ourselves through ever changing digital landscape.