Dave Eggers, The Circle (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 491pp.
In his book Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman contrasted the dystopian futures envisioned by Huxley and Orwell: "Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us." Dave Eggers sides with Huxley. In his view, we ought to fear the Frankenstein we've created and loved. Instead, we've hyped it ad nauseam. Except for a few clear-eyed truth tellers, most of us gladly drink the Kool Aid. Mae Holland, a young woman two years out of college, is Eggers' protagonist case in point.
Mae left her job at an old school utility company, a "gulag" that actually served a social purpose, to work at The Circle in Silicon Valley — the most important and admired internet company in the world, "the only company that really mattered at all." The Circle campus and everything about it is a Googlesque corporate utopia: "My God, it's heaven." she gushed. There's everything anyone could want for work or play, including dorms where workers sleep. The Circle is led by The Three Wise Men. Mae's best friend Annie is a senior executive and part of the Gang of 40 at the top of this pyramid.
The more you learn about the Circle the more you realize that it's a case study of a cult. Its mantra is Total Transparency by all and for all. After all, Circle is a Community. The Circle must be made Whole, Closed and Completed. And so the core beliefs of the company, appropriately in all caps: SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT. Nothing should ever be deleted, which isn't a problem anyway because the powerful technologies of the Circle make that impossible.
"Mae never wanted to work anyplace else." There are some truth tellers in her life, especially her former boyfriend Mercer, and her parents. But they're underachievers who are unenlightened about the sizzle that is the Circle. After all, they're from some bump in the road outside of Fresno. What do you expect? With its powerful technologies and ideological purity, the Circle has a corrosive effect on individuals, corporate culture, and the very nature of society and democracy.
In his previous books Dave Eggers explored post-Katrina America (Zeitoun) and its broken economy (A Hologram for the King). As I read about Mae's fate in the Circle, I kept thinking about the ancient insight of the Desert Father Anthony the Great of the fourth century: "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, 'You are mad; you are not like us.'" At least we have a sure guide with Dave Eggers. In addition, I recommend the recent works by Jaron Lanier and Evgeny Morozov.