The Circle: Be Afraid

October 30, 2013

I have just finished reading Dave Eggers’s apocalyptic novel, The Circle, which I highly recommend to everyone. The book is scarier than the latest installment of the Halloween movie franchise.

Its premise: that a Google/Amazon/Twitter/Facebook/Apple conglomerate will eventually take over the world, is less far-fetched than one might think. Privacy is rapidly vanishing with NSA (government) computers, Google advertising data, and all manner of prying eyes invading our personal space.

With the conceit of two female characters–Annie and Mae (note the play on “anima” or soul)–Eggers weaves a taut narrative about the choices we face in the near future over “transparency” and “security” in an information saturated society. How much of our personal data, even our inner selves, will we relinquish to the global information octopus? Where will the thirst for more data, and more invasion of our personal lives, lead?

While I found the book a bit cartoonish in some of its portrayals and themes, it forces the reader to think about information technology in a critical way, unlike the largely boosterish rhetoric that comes from most tech media sources (mainly out of the Silicon Valley). Like George Packer’s more comprehensive The Unwinding, the book focuses needed attention on the mind-set of California technology moguls graduating from Stanford, who appear to view the rest of society with a kind of contempt.

The power of big data, the web, and microchips to manage society’s biggest problems is largely overestimated by these geeky utopian thinkers. Serious writers are beginning to burst their bubbles. Let us hope that they listen to some of the static and do something to temper their enthusiasm.





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