Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know- they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.
Imagine a future in which Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are all combined into one social media account linked to your real name, your real history, your address and your bank account. The internet’s anonymity is a thing of the past, and equally, internet trolls are a thing of the past. The internet is finally civil. Your identity is available to everyone at any time.
In Dave Eggers’ 2013 bestseller, a ubiqutous company known as “The Circle” has created the one account for all purposes, known as “TruYou”. The Circle is utopian, young and dynamic, advocating a future that allows everyone to participate equally. All political and economic decisions are influenced by everyone, because the world is becoming ever more transparent. The novel’s protagonist, 24-year-old Mae Holland, lands her dream job at The Circle. She gets in because she is good friends with Annie, who in turn is part of the Gang of Forty, i.e. one of the forty most influential people at the company. As the reader soon learns, the company is run by three men with distinctly different personalities known as the “Three Wise Men”. Mae is impressed by the sheer scale of the company and its many endeavours, all of which at first glance seem to be involved with solving the problems of the world. She soon is sucked into the idealism that drives all of The Circle’s employees (or Circlers, as they prefer to be called). But is this brave, new world more than she bargained for?
Based on this brief synopsis alone the timeliness of Eggers’ novel becomes immediately apparent (Our more avid readers might remember this book being reviewed back in 2015 by Maria, but current political events warrant a second look. Do check out the original review though, which gives a far more comprehensive overview of the book itself). “The Circle” is dystopian much in the same way a “Black Mirror” episode is, in that it is set in the near future and that the future it portrays seems shockingly viable. While it suffers from some redundant thriller tropes and the female protagonist is strikingly naive at times (I’m not entirely convinced of Eggers’ portrayals of women in general, and his style of writing is a bit basic at times), it was an overall enjoyable read for me. Particularly, its potrayal of the advancement of social media (though highly fictionalized and unlikely to ever come to exist in the way it is portrayed here), the obsession with being seen and/or heard, adjusting one’s views to appeal to the masses and accomodating to other people’s needs and opinions struck a profound chord with me. On one of its fundemental levels, “The Circle” is a clear plea for the importance of one’s right to privacy. Opinions should be informed by your environment to a certain degree, Eggers seems to be saying, but ultimately, your opinions should be your own. You don’t have to be like everybody else.
There is another, more heavy-handed message the novel conveys: the idea of social media as a new form of religion or, perhaps more fittingly, a religious cult. Much of the Circle’s nomenclature points towards this comparison rather than for example political overtones, although worldly politics are explored and extensively commented on as well. It was especially interesting to read Eggers’ book in the aftermath of the U.S: presidential election, as some scholars have argued that Trump’s election was a reaction to a political correctness consensus pushed by social media in particular. Whether you agree with this position or not (I personally do not), it is certainly food for thought.
The Circle has been adapted into a movie starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, which is set to come to theatres this year. It will be interesting to see how Eggers’ vision is translated to film, and even more interesting to see what reactions it will garner on social media – which is becoming more and more interconnected and transparent by the hour, the minute, the second. We are all connected. The circle must be closed.
Simone was listening to Division Street by Ravens&Chimes while writing this article