The Circle’s Technology, and What the People Really Think
We’ve done a lot in a semester for English Studies in the Digital Age. We’ve explored the issues with social media and privacy, copyrights, how to tell a digital story, and, overall, the effects of technology on our everyday lives. We’ve read articles that challenged us, and made is think, especially about the future impact digital technology will have on the way we think and learn in the future. With all the readings we’ve done this semester, nothing stood out to me more than Dave Eggers The Circle.
The Circle tells the story of Mae Holland, a young college graduate that lands a job in the most powerful technological company to exist. The novel tells of her rise in the company, from a mere customer service employee, to one of the most public faces of the corporation.
As she rose, however, her relationships outside (and a few within) the company began to deteriorate, especially as her use of the technology that The Circle offers begins to grow. She begins to lose grip on the person she was before the Circle came so intimately into her life, her way of being. She willingly gave into the sweet nothings that the company spouts, all the perks and pretty wrappings on silver platters. We watch as she becomes less of an individual, and more of a cog in the corporation machine.
Aside from the story of Mae, one of the most important components of this story is that of the technology that The Circle offers. The audience gets to take a look at many of the products that The Circle created or was in the process of making in order to offer to the general public. I would be lying if I said that none of these products were worth taking a look at. Products like TruYou, where all an individual needs is one account, password, payment system, identity for everything, or PastPerfect, where one can look as far as possible into their family lineage does seem, on the surface of the idea, very cool. Much of these products however, weren’t as great as they were made out to be.
In my opinion, many of the products that were offered in the book were invasive and downright scary in their own nature. With many (if not all) the products listed, there was no such thing as privacy, no such thing as separation of your online and offline life. People were forced to know everything, to be known at all times. They were forced to be something that wasn’t completely them, despite Bailey’s claim that people were being their “true” self. By the end of the book, many of the characters of The Circle weren’t even human anymore. They were a mob, listening to a single voice, a single mission.
To think that society would be ready to use such technologies if they were to exist is even more horrific, especially when one considers the outcome if any of these products (used in the same way the book did) would have. I understand that we may want to learn what is happening behind the closed doors of our political leaders, but there is danger in knowing what everything that they do. There is danger in having everything, out in the open for all to see. What was worse was how cult-like everyone turned out to be. If anyone were to go against the mob, the mob would destroy them utterly and completely. We saw this with Mercer, and to a smaller extent, Ty.
Despite all this, and, as I had mentioned before, the book really forced me to think: What about our society? The society in the book is one thing, and quite a fictitious thing at that, but what about the society I live in? What about my peers? Would they be so accepting of the technologies, of the Circle itself? The answer is probably an obvious one to you or me, but there are some people out there that you as an individual have to worry and wonder about. This is especially true, as much as this pains me to say this, of the people of my generation, and the generation after me. We are the last to be born before the boom of the technological age took the world by storm. We are the last to remember what it was like before all these computers, tablets, iPods and smaller phones, much more delicate phones (I still remember the brick ones and the very first Nokia). We knew the only way to tell someone about your day was by a telephone call, in person, or if you had one, email. Or, if one was feeling particularly fancy, they’d write a letter. Sure, you were still limited, but not by a 140 characters.
With these thoughts in mind, my final project began to form. I had decided, since I wanted so badly to know what my peers would think about these products, I’d just ask them. I chose to interview five to ten people on the tech of the Circle. It was a fairly simple, sweet, and to the point: to find out how much we’d been corrupted –for lack of a better word – by the digital age.
I made up the questions describing various tech from the book, chose my interviewees, and, when they weren’t as busy, had a talk with them. The most important part of doing this interview was that it had to be people that had not yet read the book. It, of course, would have been an unfair advantage. Thankfully, The Circle hasn’t been out long enough, and kind of ensured that it wasn’t that well read yet.
I have to admit, in doing this project, I was a little worried. I was worried that a good portion of the people I asked would be for many of the products I would tell them about, considering I was just describing the product to them, and they wouldn’t have the context I did concerning it. I know that people are entitled to their opinion, but it’s still worrying if these product, (at least the more extreme ones) seem appealing. It does make you wonder, if the future that Eggers predicts is much accurate that fiction thought it would be.
That in itself is an interesting thought, considering that many of the critics and reviewers of The Circle consider Egger’s portrayal of the internet and technology not really accurate, and are quick to point out that Egger’s himself has no real interest in technology. Yet, in reading the novel, people choose to focus on what he had to say about it, and not the underlying themes surrounding it. As said by Jen Doll in the article “Dave Eggers Deserves a ‘Smile’ for Getting the Internet Wrong in “The Circle”:
The danger of writing a book about the Internet is that you’re writing a book about the Internet, thereby invoking the myriad voices and possible opinions contained within this giant, amorphous collective — whether they agree with you or not…In Eggers's bleakly amusing depiction of the lead-up to an authoritarian digital society, what many have chosen to focus on is not the thematic but the explicit and literal.
In a way, I guess I am like one of those critics, focusing on the “explicit and literal”. But can I be blamed, when the explicit and literal is so alarming? I at least know that the themes exist, but what is said about society has a stronger initial pull than the theme did, and in turn, this is what I focused my project on.
I realize that I could have done practically anything for this project. I could have had my friends reenact one of my short stories, I could have done some project based on the article “You are what you Read” and had a little journey of sorts through Barnes & Noble. I also realize that in many ways this project could have been the critical paper: ten pages worth of my thoughts on what society is turning into. As much as I would have loved to do either, this felt right to me. Going outside of the community of our classroom and getting the opinions of others, who don’t get the joy of experiencing our class, felt much more important to me. I can only hope that my efforts in this paper and the interview video connected to it prove my words true.