“Big Brother is watching you.” George Orwell
I can’t remember the last time a book captured and held me with the force of The Circle written by Dave Eggers. I read this book based on the recommendation of a writer I admire and follow on Facebook. Where else? Like me, while she writes women’s fiction, she reads everything. Since reading The Circle I have thought a lot about my relationship to Facebook and also the person I become when I am using it.
The Circle follows a young new-hire name Mae Holland at a mysterious Internet company of the same name as she strives to fit into the company culture. The company’s goal is universal global transparency beginning with TruYou – one account, one password, and one identity. Soon Mae is bewitched and is willing to give up everything including her ability to think for herself in order to make this happen. She commits herself to becoming the person the company wishes her to be.
The Circle is a deceptively easy book to read. Mae, her friend and sponsor, Annie, Mercer, her former boyfriend, The Three Wise Men, who founded the company, are not deeply drawn characters. With the exception of trying to figure out who the mysterious Kalden is, there is not a lot of plot to follow. Eggers does not travel far into his characters heads or hearts. The reader sees what everyone at the company sees.
Privacy is verboten. No act is too intimate, craven, carnal or sad to not be recorded and then viewed by all. It’s all about transparency. The characters, in turn, strive desperately to produce what the company wants to see on its SeeChange cameras in order to obtain the desired approval of the viewers.
But there is something about The Circle that may begin to feel very familiar if you are on Facebook or some other social network. The increasing pressure to please, to draw reactions that are “smiles” and not – God forbid – “frowns”, or in the case of Facebook, as many “likes” as you can. The reader is drawn into the escalating pace of messages, e-mails, and texts that constantly bombard Mae demanding that, at all costs, she feed the myth of the woman she appears to be on the company’s screens.
The Circle is a book that should make you pause the next time you open your Facebook newsfeed and your finger hovers over the “like” button. Who likes it – the real you or “Facebook You”? Why do you like it? Is it because you approve of what the post says or because you are afraid not to approve because someone will judge you for not doing so?
I leave you with this question. Do you think that Dave Eggers created his characters to be superficial because so many members of social networks appear to be superficial, living their cyber lives only for show? Are you in danger of becoming one?
If you do engage in social networking, I encourage you to read The Circle. It will make you think about who you really are especially when you are online.