Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book 94: The Circle

"Suffering is only suffering if it's done in silence, in solitude. Pain experienced in public, in view of loving millions, was no longer pain. It was communion."

Dates read: September 27-30, 2016

Rating: 3/10

I don't know about you, but a lot of my internet presence is tied to either my Google account or my Facebook account. It's so hard to remember a million different passwords and logins when you can just authorize logging in through Facebook and not have to worry about it anymore. But we all know it's not quite as innocuous as we'd like it to believe...we see the ads for that cute dress we looked at on our work computer show up on our home computer and know that we signed into the website selling that cute dress through Facebook. Technology and social media are awesome, but they're also new. If we're being honest, we don't really understand the full ramifications of putting so much of our lives on the internet. We're making a lot of it up as we go along.

In Dave Eggers' The Circle, we're ever-so-slightly in the future, and one large umbrella company has taken over most of what happens on the internet: all your social media and e-commerce goes through a TruYou profile, a product of The Circle. When Mae Holland, a recent graduate of an East Coast private liberal arts school who grew up in working class California, is able to get a job at The Circle through her friend Annie, she's thrilled. The sprawling and luxurious Bay Area campus is beyond her wildest dreams and the company is at the forefront of every breaking new development in internet technology. She's increasingly drawn into the world of The Circle as it encroaches further and further into formerly private arenas of life, and can't understand her family and friends who resist the shifting landscape of the world.

Theoretically, this is a really good book, a modern 1984. When you hear about things like the lawsuit in Spain about the right to be forgotten, it really makes you think about how deeply the internet has enmeshed itself in our lives. The Circle illustrates how slippery the slope could be for it to completely invade all aspects of our existence...microchipping and GPS tracking children to prevent kidnapping, very small constantly streaming webcams to open up closed regimes, politicians livestreaming their professional duties to make government transparent. All of these things sound like they're positive developments on the surface, but it creates a culture of constant surveillance.

Where the book fails, though, is the execution. Mae (short for Maebelline, which I thought was a nifty way to communicate what kind of people her parents were without having to spell anything out) is obviously meant to be an audience-insert character, like Twilight's Bella. But it doesn't work here to the extent it works for Twilight...the characteristics Mae is given, ambition and a certain amount of selfishness, render her mostly unpleasant. She needs to be a compelling character to have us follow her down the proverbial rabbit hole, but she has no real personality. She seems close to her family in the beginning, but drafts away from them easily and without apparent regret. She has "relationships" with peers like Annie and her ex-boyfriend Mercer, but we're not given any sense of history or any reason to believe that she's actually emotionally connected to other people. The writing is clunky, with awkward phrasing all over the place. It's extra disappointing because the ideas behind the book are there, and if it had been rendered better it could have been amazing. I understand why it flopped, and I wouldn't recommend it.

Tell me, blog you ever take technology breaks?

One year ago, I was reading: The Wolf In The Attic

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