Dave Eggers' latest, The Circle, is an allegory for the information age
I can’t always articulate what feels creepy to me about Facebook and Google and Apple. I use their products every day. All three of ’em, almost without fail. I’ve read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I’ve watched the TED Talk on filter bubbles, and I’m at least vaguely aware of all the NSA stuff no one seems to care that much about. There a million voices out there, some cautionary, some expository, some just concertedly observational, all of them trying to frame a relationship with technology that’s increasingly unframeable. And yet, having listened to lots of those voices, and soaked up all that perspective, I’m still lining up to hemorrhage personal information every day. The addiction is strong. I’m not big on conspiracy bullshit, but just the objective facts themselves seem like cause for concern. We’re all plunging headlong into a massive, ongoing exercise in sharing and archiving with no articulable end goal. Someone, somewhere is sitting on that admittedly mostly-worthless stockpile of information. On a more individualized scale, we’re all recording and documenting ourselves and gawking at each other, and we’re all internalizing it, one way or another.
I don’t want to set this one up too much (i.e. you’re better off skipping my intro and reading it yourself), but Dave Eggers’ The Circle gets at a lot of that uneasiness I’m feeling. The excerpt from Eggers’ latest novel, published in The New York Times Magazine last week, isn’t all that sensationalist in its storytelling. It kinda creeps up on you. The Circle tells the story of Mae, a fledgling employee at The Circle, a fictional Silicon Valley company that’s recently consolidated massive amounts of information, technological innovation, and near-universal good will. It’s an inspiring, idyllic place full of big, efficient ideas and friendly words like “imagination”, “connectivity” and “transparency”. It’s also a place that unsubtly encourages cult-like devotion and participation on the part of its disciples. Within the confines of its massive, amenity-rich campus, the value of its goals and ideals are pretty much unquestioned.
If this little piece The Circle reads like satire, it’s the kind that’s effective based on an eerie similarity to reality, rather than a massively overblown caricature of it. Like, the that doesn’t seem too far away or implausible kind of satire. There are echoes of Office Space and Infinite Jest, though the tone never quite goes over the top. In any case, it’s Eggers, so it’s awesome, and like most great fiction, it’s helpful in illuminating things about the world around us. Maybe even ourselves. Full disclosure: I’ve only read the excerpt–which is excerpted from a magazine, and a book–and only off my computer screen. Read an abridged version below, or go buy a book like a grown-up at your local indie bookstore.