This is my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. It’s about a woman named Mae who gets a job at a powerful internet company called The Circle that’s rather Google-esque and Facebook-esque. At first it seems like her dream job and everything is perfect. This is a company that really seems to care about the well being of its employees, that goes above and beyond to make sure they’re happy, healthy and having a good time.
There are all kinds of lavish parties and social events, special interest clubs, visits from celebrities, exquisite food, fancy decorations, comfortable dorm rooms in which employees can spend the night on campus and doctors to check up on the employees. The Circle even agrees to put Mae’s ailing father on her healthcare plan. Yet there’s also a dark side to The Circle and working there gets very stressful.
There’s a lot of pressure exerted on Mae to get perfect scores on her customer service reviews, to get lots of views, smiles and zings ( the equivalent of likes) and to rise in the company’s PartiRanks, which is based in her performance in those areas. Then there’s the pressure exerted on Mae to participate in The Circle’s social events, especially those that match up with her interests and experiences (her supervisors know all about her interests and experiences since they’ve searched through her social media profiles.) In their efforts to connect people from all over the world together, to make information readily available to everyone and of course to grow their business, The Circle becomes very controlling and overbearing. They are invested in the lives of their employees not just in the workplace but outside the workplace as well and the boundary between the two soon becomes very thin.
Some of Mae’s family and friends resent the intrusion on their privacy and at first Mae does as well but after her supervisors admonish her for going kayaking without posting about it on the internet she quickly becomes brainwashed to the point that she agrees to go transparent, meaning she wears a recording device that broadcasts almost every second of her day in real time for the world to see. With the help of her supervisors she develops three central tenets to represent The Circle : Sharing is caring, secrets are lies and privacy is theft.
After that the novel becomes rather Orwellian. It is a novel that is both creepy and hilarious. What makes it so creepy is that as ridiculous as everything that happens in the novel is, it doesn’t seem all that far fetched. With the way things are headed in the real world, someday living in a society that resembles the one in this book doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.
I’m a big fan of the internet and an avid user of social media but I recognize its inherent creepiness and I’ve noticed the levels of creepiness steadily increasing as time goes on. It’s gotten more invasive, more in you face, more stalker-y. Things that used to be private are now public.
It always freaks me out when right after I’ve read or talked about something on the internet ads geared towards that subject start popping up everywhere. No matter how many times I tell the internet that I don’t want to give it my phone number so that it can secure my account or my location so that it can serve me better, it won’t stop asking me for it. I think the use of the like button and emjois has become rather excessive.
There were several instances in this book that reminded me of my own real life encounters with the internet. When one of the founders of The Circle introduced a kind of universal social media profile with one log in across all social media sites I was reminded of something I encountered on WordPress called Gravatar. I asked a friend of mine who had it how she got it and she said she had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently she had been signed up for it without her knowledge or consent because the internet is creepy like that.
In this book multiple tragedies occur as a result of the invasive cyber crazed dystopian society The Circle is creating but the leaders rationalize the tragedies and continue on in their quest to take over the world. Maybe Mae couldn’t have been expected to realize that her ex-boyfriend would be driven to suicide as a result of her having The Circle and the networks of people connected with them track him down and pursue him after he’d gone off the grid to escape their influence but I thought it was foolish of her not to realize he would be horribly distraught by it.
At the end of the book the mysterious man who has been pursuing Mae throughout the novel reveals himself to be one of The Circle’s founding fathers. He tells Mae that The Circle has gotten out of control, that it’s become different than what he planned, more than what he bargained for, that it’s a destructive force that must be stopped. At first I thought that Mae might listen to reason and prevent The Circle from reaching ‘completion’, that the book might have a happy ending. Being the morbid thing that I am, I was disappointed because I wanted it to have a “He loved Big Brother” type of ending.
Luckily for me, it did end up having that kind of ending. It ended the way I originally predicted it would, in the best and most (in)appropriate way it could have ended.
When I went to review this book on Goodreads and post my review on Facebook I was asked to give the book a star number rating. Then I was asked to review a number of places I had visited recently, places that had been tracked through my Facebook activity. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happened in The Circle.