“The Circle”: A Short Book Review

The Circle, Dave Eggers’ new critique of social media and the way we stay “connected,” is a snoozer.  I purchased the novel based on a positive review by Lev Grossman in Time magazine (14 Oct 2013).  Grossman refers to the book as a “bisteringly didactic novel” and calls the writing “brisk and spare and efficient, with occasional gratuitous sexy bits.”

While the subject matter is certainly timely and should be of interest to futurists of all kinds, and particularly to technoprogressives and transhumanists, it fails to deliver at any level and gets only a moderate rating on amazon.com.  The novel has endless repetitive, boring, and stilted conversations.  And the “gratuitous sexy bits” by today’s standards are blase.

Some of the driving action in the book is just plain idiotic (spoiler alert).  The section where the main character “borrows” a kayak and gets caught is much ado about nothing, yet it is a critical turning point in the novel.  The scenes with the aquarium and the attempted tie-in to the plot (a sort of metaphor) are real eye-rollers.  The voting developments at the end are hardly high-tech by today’s standards.  And does anyone really go bonkers over their genealogy?

In the novel, The Circle is a Silicon Valley company akin to Google, only on even more steroids.  It is allegedly run by a troika, but the leadership is really dominated by one individual.  The book starts with a young woman Mae, the main character, showing up for her first day of work at The Circle, which appears at first glance to have an almost utopian environment.  Mae rapidly develops ties to upper management and becomes their stooge.

Basically, the company espouses monitoring, measuring, transparency, and immediacy.  Every aspect of almost everything, including human vital functions, is monitored in real-time and made universally available.  The addition of individuals (particularly politicians) wearing webcams is one of the key developments in the novel.  Obviously, this kind of transparency is smothering, but Mae, with her cult-like enthusiasm is immune from any criticism.

Illustration from the New York Times Magazine

Illustration from the New York Times Magazine

In all this, there is one rebel and he hands Mae a piece of paper with the “The Rights of Humans in a Digital Age” written on it.

  • We must have the right to anonymity
  • Not every human activity can be measured.
  • The ceaseless pursuit of data to quantify the value of any endeavor is catastrophic to true understanding.
  • The barrier between public and private must remain unbreachable.
  • We must all have the right to disappear.

Hip-hip hurrah for the “Rights of Humans,” but lets find a better novel to expound it than . . . The Circle.

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This entry was posted in Books, real-time monitoring, Technology, transhumanism. Bookmark the permalink.

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