The Circle - A Warning About the Future of Technology

Lisa Gardner's picture


While TSA prepares and teaches us how to “live in a technical world,” that technical world continues to change, and not always for the better. Dave Eggers’s illustrates this point in his new novel, The Circle. Seemingly modeled after George Orwell’s 1984, The Circle depicts a world in which social media has become overruled by one company, and in which the world has become overruled by social media. The company that owns it all is known as the Circle and it is depicted as the future of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google among others. In the exposition, the author explains how the company became successful by creating the product “TruYou,” a social media service that connects all social media outlets to one account, one site, and one identity. True to its name, the TruYou’s identity is the customer’s, meaning that all anonymity is taken from the internet. The masterminds of TruYou argue that this makes life better; it holds people accountable for their online actions, so it eliminates cyberbullying, identity theft, or any other uncivil activities. Although the reader quickly realizes that whatever its intentions, the Circle has spiraled out of control, and much like 1984, it has taken away the freedom of individuals.

The story follows Mae, a naive young woman who is searching for a job after high school, and finds one at the Circle. She is taken with her new job and its lavish accommodations including gourmet restaurants, health centers, and dorms, created so its workers can permanently stay there. As she continues to work at the Circle, she begins to lose her privacy, her identity, and her humanity. The final straw is when she agrees to go “transparent,” wearing cameras that monitor her 24/7. But instead of rebelling against the loss of privacy, Mae begins to advertise it as the Circle’s spokeswoman. Much like 1984’s character Winston, Mae is forced to succumb to the pressures of the Circle, and also like Winston, she starts to enjoy it.

Although the Circle is less prophetic of the future than descriptive of the present, it definitely raises some points about the extent that social media influences our perceptions, our friends, and our decisions. Many people have been skeptical of Eggers’s points in the novel because he did not actually research social media sites, but the purpose of pieces like this is to get people thinking and talking about these issues before they can become reality. The book has been criticized of being rushed, but the book’s contents are very time sensitive, especially since, unlike Orwell, the events of the book are much closer to the present. It is also accused of lacking the fluidity and polish of Orwell’s piece, but his purpose, while similar, is not quite the same. Orwell’s book is more prophetic of a distant future (it was originally published in 1949) while Eggers’s models much of what is starting to happen today. The difference in time frame may also be attributed to the exponential growth of technology. Nevertheless, both books warn of a future overrun with monopoly and loss of individual freedom.

Orwell’s 1984 never became true, and this book is another example of exaggeration, but as the next generation living in the technical world, it is important that we contemplate our actions effects on how we live our lives now and in the future. Given the book’s similarities to Orwell’s 1984, it seems appropriate to end with the governing ideals of Eggers’s dystopia (1984 also had three mantras). The Circle’s are: SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT, and SECRETS ARE LIES.