Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft. This is the mantra of the Circle, a conglomeration of the culture of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon in Dave Eggers novel of the same name.
By ELAINA SMITH
The Kansas City Star
Eggers, novelist, essayist and founder of the publishing house McSweeneys, always seems to have his finger on the pulse of current issues. His previous novel, A Hologram for the King (2012), dealt with the role of America in the worlds economy, and his book of nonfiction, Zeitoun (2009), explored the life of a Syrian-American man in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
In The Circle, Eggers attempts to comment on the powerful mechanism that is the Internet, social media and the obsession with other peoples lives.
Mae Holland, 24-year-old recent college graduate with few job prospects, accepts a position at the Circle, the up-and-coming social media monolith. Eggers invokes images of the Google and Facebook campuses, with access to gyms, entertainment centers, cafeterias with edible food and, most important, community. Naïve and starry-eyed upon entering the Circle campus, Mae thinks, My God. Its heaven.
The heart of the Circles power lies within the use of TruYou, a single online account connected to your true identity, which keeps everyone within the Circle courteous. Overnight, all comment boards became civil, all posters held accountable.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Eggers conceded that he did not research the social media companies that have become so much a part of peoples lives, and it shows. Eggers clearly has invented a caricature of the online world, or he seems not to realize that accounts where you can express your true identity such as Facebook have never kept anyone from trolling the Internet. No complexity mars this Internet creation of Eggers, who explains this huge stride in online politeness in one paragraph without ever exploring it again.
Similarly, all but two of Eggers characters, who are in their mid- to late-20s, devolve into needy and emotionally stunted figures. The constant sharing and obsession over other peoples thoughts and actions consumes them.
One co-worker bursts into tears when Mae overlooks an online invitation to a party; another constantly asks Mae to rate his subpar sexual performance. A relentless need for approval and positive feedback characterizes these figures interactions with other humans.
Under the guise of sharing is caring, Mae faces chastisement when she doesnt send enough zings Eggers version of tweets into the social stratosphere. The Circle frowns on privacy, and Mae realizes quickly that to get ahead, she must fully immerse herself in this world of zings, smiles, frowns and sharing.
The Circles goal is to make everyone transparent, especially government officials, who acquiesce to wearing cameras 24/7 to show their constituents their commitment to honesty (another unexplained move by Eggers). As Mae navigates this social media totalitarian regime, she also becomes transparent, a figurehead for the Circles mantra of sharing is caring as she moves about her world always wearing a camera around her neck.
Eggers also introduces the literal symbol of the shark in his heavy-handed way: a creature that consumes everything in its path, a representation of how the Internet consumes privacy and individuality. The shark circled and stabbed until he had devoured the thousand babies, Eggers writes with relish, and the seaweed, and the coral, and the anemones. It ate everything, and deposited the remains quickly, carpeting the empty aquarium in a low film of ash.
Maes ex-boyfriend Mercer provides the clunky counterpoint to the Circles insidiousness. Here, though, there are no oppressors, he tells Mae. No ones forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes Mae, do you realize how incredibly boring youve become?
Mae becomes fully brainwashed by the end, resisting attempts by one of the founders to stop the destructive Internet conglomerate. Mae remains a cardboard character from beginning to end, a mere talking head for how Eggers seems to see young people and their use of online identities.
The Circle fails to make a thoughtful case for the negative aspects of the Internet and social media because it is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Eggers tries for a cross between satire and a dystopia a la Orwells 1984 but falters. He creates millennial-generation characters who can only spout one belief, while the Circle itself remains only negative and destructive a startlingly black-and-white vision of a multifaceted way of being.
Elaina Smith is a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an intern this semester at The Star. To reach her, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.