By Heidi Simmons
The Circle

by Dave Eggers


Ever wonder just how far this whole crazy internet idea will go? In Dave Eggers’ The Circle (Knopf, 504 pages), one social media corporation intends to rule the world.

The story begins with Mae Holland who gets a job on the massive campus of the country’s — the world’s — top internet search business called Circle. Annie is Mae’s best friend from college and one of the company’s top 40 most important people. Mae idolizes Annie and is incredibly grateful that she would get her a position in customer service, or as Circle refers to it, Customer Experience. Mae feels like the luckiest girl on earth.

Mae soon comes to understand that just working at Circle is not enough. She is expected to socialize both in person and online. In fact, there is a quota and a ranking system regarding socialization participation, in which they are required to share their personal experiences.

Every Circler voluntarily is micro chipped so their location can always be known. The chip also monitors their vital signs and health. With over 10,000 employees, the campus is a world unto itself and Circle wants to be considered family. The mega complex has a store, dormitories, playgrounds, amphitheater, restaurants, a health center, everything one needs to do his or her job well — and it’s all free. There are multiple events and clubs meeting everyday. Furthermore to shun an event hurts the Circle family.

Dominating the social media market, Circle has developed technology and streamlined the tools for internet users so everything can be done with one account, one password, one payment system and one identity. It’s called TruYou. Your real name is attached to all your devices. It is also linked to credit cards and banking. Using TruYou and all its user-friendly applications, requires only a free online account with Circle. Once you are a TruYou user, you can see anything, buy anything, comment on anything, use anything on the web with one easy step. The system is all tied together, trackable and simplified.

Their newest invention is SeeChange. Free-standing, lollypop-sized, wireless cameras that can be linked together and viewed by all TruYou users in real time. One Circle motto is: “All that happens must be known.” In ten years, Circle anticipates a billion cameras will be streaming live video only accessible on TruYou. They claim it is the ultimate transparency tool. The idea of transparency is so potent that politicians are using the SeeChange cameras in their offices so constituents can see, hear and know all that is happening.

Other Circle prototypes are TruYouth that microchip kids to know where they are and to prevent child abductions. YouthRank keeps a record of a child’s education and test scores, which can be linked to TruYouth. SoulSearch can find criminals or friends by activating the TruYou network of users. PastPerfect is a program that documents everything from the beginning of time for the sake of history and genealogy. Everything recorded from audio, video and photos is put into the TruYou system. Nothing is ever deleted!

Mae becomes a devotee in the TruYou cult and becomes a Transparent – she wears a camera 24/7 and documents her entire life and the working world of Circle. On a typical day, she has no less than 20,000 watchers. On days when the three founders known as the Wise Men are together, there are tens of millions of watchers. As Mae’s own popularity grows, so does her ego and need for power. She is a true believer in the Circle philosophy and abides by its mottos: “Privacy is theft,” “Secrets are lies,” and “Sharing is caring.”

It is Mae who suggests to the Wise Men and her own followers that TruYou should have online voting as the “ultimate democracy.” Circle membership is so powerful it could make people vote. After all, it has more daily users than the sum of those who go to voting polls around the world. Circle agrees, and calls the prototype program Demoxie for democracy and expressing your will with moxie.

Over Mae’s short tenure, Circle influence grows globally and transparency is gaining ground. No secret is good. When Mae discovers her lover is a Circle insider who wants her to break the Circle and stop its take over and completion, she turns against him to protect the new world order Circle has installed. She believes he is an anarchist and personal privacy is an old way of life no longer relevant or important to society.

We all use the internet and it’s nearly impossible to imagine living without it. It is hard not to see Circle’s TruYou as Google, but it really doesn’t matter because the finger author Eggers is pointing, is not at a company, but at its users. The way users are so willing to give up personal information, voluntarily share the most intimate details of their lives, criticize others with an ill-formed mob mentality is much more disconcerting.

If a corporation can make a profit from selling information they will. But what happens when a corporation manufactures, manages and manipulates the information itself? In The Circle, Eggers weaves a compelling tale of what may be just around the corner.

The character of Mae is not interesting or dynamic. She is hardly a candidate for a power take over. She’s a square and not that bright. Certainly she is being used. But I would have liked to understand her better and know why she turned into such a minion.

The first 150 pages are rather dull, but keep with it because the moral arguments about where we might be headed with this whole internet thing is very thought-provoking and more than a tad frightening. It makes one wonder: Can we ever go back and are we already part of the Circle?