Look, it’s didactic and heavy-handed, okay? And Eggers is sort of unabashedly prone to proselytizing. His protagonist is frustratingly meek. And maybe not all of his ideas are completely fresh. But none of this changes the fact that The Circle is a hell of a fun read. A serious page-turner. I didn’t want to put it down. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror—most notably Nosedive or The Entire History of You. I don’t even care about all the obvious flaws because I enjoyed it so much.
The Circle is the world’s largest internet company, and 24-year-old Mae is lucky enough to land an entry-level job there. If you’ve ever worked at a hip startup or a tech company, you’ll grin knowingly at Eggers’ satirical portrait of company culture: the ever-expanding number of computer screens per employee; the insistence that it’s not all about work, it’s also about community, but curiously enough, being part of the community starts to feel like work, too.
Working at the Circle feels like a dream come true for Mae, and she’s desperate to impress her peers—even as the constant demand for in-person socialization and online participation in the Circle’s social network begins to take over her life. Soon enough, Mae is sleeping at the Circle’s on-site dorms and spending all of her time in this cult-like environment in an effort to raise her personal participation score and improve her rank at the company. As one of her old friends eventually points out, she’s creating the illusion of living an interesting life, but she’s not really living.
At the Circle, everything is tracked and ultimate transparency is the utopian ideal. What if you could know everything? Wouldn’t it be nice to eliminate uncertainty? If we were all being watched, would it not result in a more moral way of life?
As Mae is deeper ingrained in the Circle, she inadvertently becomes a necessary component of the company’s more nefarious ambitions until she’s in completely over her head. In this fascinating, visionary novel, Eggers explores the notions of technology, information, privacy, surveillance and transparency. What’s eeriest of all is that the dystopian nightmare he has imagined doesn’t seem very far off from our current world.