Do you ever feel like you’re the last one to read a book that people have been recommending for ages, then you finally read it and you’re mad at yourself for not reading it sooner? That’s how I feel about The Circle by Dave Eggers. Friends at the Community Roundtable recommended it a few months ago and I mistakenly thought it was a business book. Not that I have anything against business books, but I try to not read them in my “fun” time and try to stick to fiction. So I guess that’s why I’d hesitated, and only picked up the book when I happened to see it at the library last week. (Can I just sidebar to say how excited I am that my local library is back in business?! I live only a few blocks away and it had been closed for renovations for over THREE years, which was torture. But it’s open now and gorgeous--thank you Montgomery County Libraries/Olney Library!!)
So anyway, I saw the book, grabbed it and realized it was a novel, so I checked it out and started reading. Not to be nerdy, but I was riveted. Rather than me describing it, here’s the description from Amazon:
“When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.”
As someone who spends way too much time online and who works in social media, I found the book to be fascinating and depressing. It made my head hurt watching the main character get sucked further and further into the maniacal pace if her job in “Customer Experience” at what is basically a fictional Facebook or Google. Her job performance wasn’t just about how well she did her job and answered customer queries, but about her social participation--”smiles” and “zings” and other social actions that all went towards a sort of Klout score for employment. Not to mention the fact that the company had a Google-esque “campus,” complete with dorms, recreational facilities and basically everything you’d need to never have to leave work again. Ever. It was both claustrophobic and appealing to me, a homebody and online-a-holic and someone who would rather go without eating lunch than have to walk outside if it’s cold or rainy out. Then there was the ever-increasing number of monitors they kept adding to her workstation...as a person who can’t function without two monitors, my mind sort of short-circuited as this fictional character’s desk because increasingly cluttered with a third, fourth, fifth and even more monitors as she was expected to multitask more and more things.
All I know is, 491 pages and a few days later, I totally recommend this book to anyone who works in the social media space or aspires to, and/or to anyone who doesn’t and is horrified by the thought of sharing anything personal via social media. While it maybe wasn’t the best written book on the planet, it was definitely an interesting read and raises interesting questions about the cost of sharing too much online, and of information overload, and also loyalty to companies that measure productivity in terms of total immersion in in the company with no boundaries between work and home life.
Have you read The Circle? If so, what did you think?