When Mae arrives on her first day of work at The Circle, the world’s largest internet company, she is immediately engulfed and welcomed on campus, dazzled by the constant events and built-in social life. As the reader and a geek, I too was dazzled. All the perks of working for the mega-rich people-friendly companies were trotted out: the concerts and groups, encouraged individuality, free lunches and malleable schedules, all wrapped in a shiny high-tech bow.
The gloss quickly loses it’s glamour when the social opportunities become demands. Ignoring a mass invite leads to meetings with the boss, too low a social standing online leads to hours every day “zinging” and “smiling.” Only, as privacy was labeled “selfish” and secrets as “lies,” all wrapped up in instant knowledge access and eternal surveillance, Mae walked happily on, head held high, the mouthpiece for “transparency” in all things.
Did I believe Mae as a character? No. She was just blithely stupid to what she was losing, what she was doing to everyone around her, to the world. Is it because I am so vocally her opposite, hoarding my moments of privacy and solitude? Possibly, though as a whole the characters were too one dimensional, caricatures instead of people. I felt the book was too bright and too fast, like a parable instead of a novel.
Still, in the interest in “transparency,” this book scared the crap out of me. It triggered my panicky need to stand in a corner somewhere quietly and just watch. It is a horror story written for introverts, and I had a series of cinematic, event movie nightmares where I was chased by Men in Black who wanted to wire me with mandatory cameras and microphones and made skyscrapers explode from silent helicopters in the night. It made sense to write it the way he did. Like a speeding train or a tsunami, the tech came hard and fast and while everyone was cheering it as the best thing to happen to humanity, there wasn’t time to pause and breathe and say “wait!” It’s quite plausible that in the perfect storm, this could be what we become.