My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a frustrating book to read in retrospect. I’ve enjoyed Dave Eggers’s writing since he launched Might magazine back in the 90s. And, despite its 500-ish page length and my slow reading habits, I managed to zip through this one quite quickly.
Mae Holland is a newly hired employee at The Circle, a massive social media company that is a combination of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikileaks, and Amazon. As she rises through the ranks to become its ambassador, she increasingly loses her privacy as the company pushes through its agenda of total transparency in all realms: commerce, crime, politics, healthcare, etc. All of it with the goal of making life easier and safer for all without any concern for the more sinister effects this will bring, even when they start rolling out their 1984-style slogans: Sharing is Caring, Everything that Happens Must Be Known, and Privacy is Theft.
Eggers is a skilled writer even if this particular book is not without its problems: Mae comes off as two-dimensional and far too gullible (although perhaps that is the point), the innovations the Circle bring out seem a bit too easily developed and adopted (I’m sure an actual software developer would be rolling her eyes at some of what they come up with), and the concerns are perhaps a bit too paranoid.
It may even be a bit sexist if the only two people in the novel who are against the Circle are men. One is her ex-boyfriend who creates deer antler chandeliers (he works with his hands!) and a mysterious lover whose true identity is a bit too clearly telegraphed. There is a tone of condescension in the novel directed toward younger people as one character berates Mae and her generation for wanting to be famous all the time. And the ending gives us a fairly heavy-handed metaphor, which I liked regardless.
That said, I did enjoy the novel and it succeeded in making me wonder if I really need all these social media accounts. But I don’t think I’m ready to run off to a cabin in the woods, just yet.