With current day news media outlets covering the positive and negative effects of social media, of sending private information and photographs out into cyberspace for all to see, where it becomes public, regardless of whether or not there are other innocent souls attached to the posts, without their knowledge or permission, where it remains in orbit indefinitely or forever, this book is very relevant. Perhaps the definition of privacy will have to change to accommodate all of the people who are now voyeurs, looking into other people’s lives, as it has surely been changed in this book. While the book is not as well written as I would have hoped, and it jumps from event to event without smooth segues, it is relevant because of the world we live in today and is a great selection for book discussions.
From the beginning, for me, the book presented a nightmare scenario of a future fast approaching. The book feels like a primer for creating a society in which all humans are completely connected in business, pleasure, private and public life. Secrets are non-existent. Sharing is everything. It is the key to a more perfect world, a world free of crime, abuse, disease, evil thoughts and improper and foolish behavior patterns which might lead to unhealthy lifestyles. All thoughts and actions, the whole of one’s life and history, no matter what it exposed, would be broadcast via cameras and audio feeds out to all connected to the program via bracelets that collect and dispense vital information. All this would be overseen by the largest company of its kind, “The Circle”, a company that collects and stores information.
The goal of having the whole country and then the world, connected by camera and audio feeds, so that everyone is exposed to everyone else, so that all information generated would be shared and stored forever, inerasable, supposedly would create a more perfect society with less disease, fewer lies, no secrets, almost non-existent crime, no duplicity, no need for strong government control, perhaps, actually, with no need for a government, since The Circle, that massive corporation, would control it all: voting registration, eating habits, sleep patterns, bodily functions, study habits, work habits, and every other phase of life. It would track all movements and correct those that were inconsistent with proper behavior and optimum health, with direct messages, sent via the bracelet, acting as a gentle reminder to prompt one to act and immediately correct their behavior. There would be millions, maybe billions of watchers at any given time that might hone in on you, and see you, so your behavior in all phases of your life would be under observance as if “Jiminy Cricket” was alight on your shoulder, keeping you in line. Yet, Jiminy Cricket seems like a rather benign figure, and I am not sure the main character, Mae, and her ilk are as non-threatening.
The ultimate company goal is being sold as unselfish, a goal that would be wonderful for humanity, the sharing of all information would educate all about things they might not otherwise experience, would expose evil, eliminate fear, would catch perpetrators more easily since eyes everywhere would be mobilized to track them, would improve life in general, everywhere.
In the end, the reader might wonder, though, was a utopia created or was its opposite, a dystopia, born from the ashes of “The Circle’s effort? Is it Nirvana or a living Hell that they wind up with? Ultimately, can you have freedom when choice is taken away from you and someone else makes all your decisions? It sure sounds like life would be easier, but would it be more enriched, stress-free, or would it be more intense with the responsibility of answering to nameless faces everywhere for your selections in life, for your ancestry, for your weight, for your education, for any choice you might make?
Mae, the main character was delighted to have landed a job working for this quintessential tech company, at a Disneyworld type campus in San Francisco. Every amenity an employee could wish for was available to her. Although she didn’t think she would get the job, they thought she was a perfect fit, and she rockets to the top of the food chain as a malleable blank page. She buys all their propaganda and is someone they can mold to fit their design and ultimate purpose. Mae is a bit off center. When someone crosses her, she is disloyal, doesn’t realize that she might be wrong, doesn’t accept blame or responsibility, but rather blames those around her for her disappointments with concocted excuses that might defy our common sense, but not hers. She doesn’t really see anyone else’s goals but hers as worthy, and as she outperforms others and comes up with strategic company ideas, she rises up the ladder. As her popularity grows, she becomes more and more drunk with her own power.
The sophisticated surveillance systems, already in place, make it very difficult for any company to compete with “The Circle”, and they are moving quickly to establish their vision, embracing everyone into their program and creating what they perceive to be a better world. The ramifications of “The Circle’s” program fail to concern Mae and most of the enrollees. Mae is too overcome with her sudden fame and success to care about anything else. The insecurities and emotional issues she harbors are carrying her forward and upward.
This program, if real, wouldn’t be the first time a flawed person would rise to the top and bring a world down to its knees. Mae has all the makings of that kind of a leader. As she pretends to be reaching out to others for their benefit, she is really only interested in increasing her own image, influence and control. For all intents and purposes, her world has become a “high tech zoo” with the humans gawking at each other instead of at the animals! They are all living vicariously.
In the end, though, it was hard to imagine a scenario where a 20 something, with little experience, could advance so far in a company run by the “three wise men”, but then, we have a youngish President who advanced to the top of the mountain without a shred of experience to prepare him for his job, and that is ultimately how Mae sees herself…as President. Mae envisions an environment which at first seems free and open, with opportunity everywhere for communicating, but which really risks becoming more and more controlled and monitored.
While some of the book’s concepts are outlandish, requiring the suspension of disbelief, some of it is frighteningly close to what is taking place in our lives, at the present time, with our cell phones that monitor our location, our government which traces our phone calls, our doctors who are now forced to put all our information into one massive “pot of information” online. Are we, perhaps, giving up our own privacy and freedom of choice for reasons other than national security, but rather for reasons of irrational narcissistic desires to be watched by others, to create a false sense of our own ability to influence others, of our own importance and power? Are we headed toward a world in “The Circle’s” image?