Monday, 18 April 2016

The Circle - by Dave Eggers: A book review

Recently, I chanced upon this book titled "The Circle" by Dave Eggers. Though it is not a recently published book, having first seen the book shelves in 2013, it is a good read as it provides a satirical commentary on these times of social media and 24/7 connectivity. 

The Circle is a software giant - with its headquarters called "The Campus", somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. It is something of a combination of Google, YouTube, CNN, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. It operates on providing a single window for all the daily internet needs. One account, one password. Once you have set up the account, you post messages, comments, "smiles and frowns", pictures and videos; you send and receive email; you shop online; you make all payments - whether to e-commerce sites or not; you have live webcast of all and sundry things from all over the world. The company has offices all over the world. It was founded by the "Three Wise Men", six years before the book begins, who still run it and decide its fortunes. The company aggressively tries to get more and more information about people's lives, even the very private aspects, and goes by the motto "Privacy is Theft"! 

The book traces the journey of the protagonist, Mae Holland, who joins the company in Customer Experience (CE) at the recommendation of a college friend, and thus, of the company itself as it grows aggressively and tries to make people telecast their lives 24/7 on the net by going "Transparent". In terms of being a thriller, as it is positioned, it is not much of one. It lacks the spine-chilling finesse and plotting of Michael Crichton, despite the scope being there. The climax is actually a three-page anti-climax, which is quite expected and really inane. There is no build up to the climax. Nor is there any build-up of nail-biting page-turning anywhere in the book. However, the book shocks in its own ways. One is shocked at how social media and recognition empowers, and how the empowerment intoxicates, to the extent that people are willing to enslave themselves to round-the-clock scrutiny of their lives, including their most private moments. It also a poses a very relevant question - is it going to become reality someday?

On the whole, it is, as I said before, a satirical commentary of these times of social media. The Campus is littered with sculptures and engravings of psycho-babble-cum-new-age-spiel like "Breathe", "Dream", "Sharing is caring", "The sky is not the limit - there is no limit". The book also takes a look at how "Democracy" and "Protection of Human Rights" are being used with impunity and almost criminally to deprive people of their right to privacy and their opinion. The ultra-leftist dream being enabled and almost foisted on the world by the Capitalists who look at nothing but the bottomline. Most characters in the book are caricatures, whether it is the young 20-something founder of the company who may have Asperger's, the smooth-talking, suave but ruthless CEO, and the all-for-transparency-democracy-and-human-rights third wise man. You see a lot of spouting of the words, "Everyone is valuable", "Every situation has a teaching in it", "You are precious and valued", "We believe every employee is important and deserves the best"- done to death cliches in most corporate set-ups and on the social media. 

Several times during the book, one can identify so many of our own social media experiences. We can identify people and characters from our own social networks. And all in the name of goodness, humanity, democracy, and god-knows what other things which promise democratic and transparent Utopia, but end up painting the picture of the worst-kind of exhibitionist and mob-rule Dystopia, where one cannot even breathe without people looking, liking and commenting!