The Circle by Dave Eggers – is technology the cause of evil, or the product of it?

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Last month, along with seven other books (I honestly don’t know how I got through that many) I read the Circle by Dave Eggers. It’s about a young woman named Mae who leaves a dead-end job for a sought-after position in the Circle, a Google-esque tech company that has its eyes set on global domination.

As the novel progresses, the technology that the Circle produces becomes more and more invasive. This not only impacts the users’ lives, but that of wider society and governmental processes. Concurrently, Mae becomes more and more absorbed with her phone, her work and her reputation online. It soon becomes normal for her to document everything she does on social media, to experience most of her life digitally, to equate safety and comfort with all-knowing, all-seeing, spying technology, and to spend most of her time in the Circle’s office – which soon becomes more like a totalitarian state than a workplace.

The novel certainly invaded my thoughts, and still does. I felt uncomfortable reading the satiric, exaggerated depiction of current social media and technology trends, simply because they’re not that exaggerated. It also gave me flashbacks to a time I worked in a company boasting a ‘start-up mentality’ – with meetings described as huddles, the office fridge full of free beer, after-work clubs, organised fun and post-its-a-plenty. Basically, an environment that blurs the line between work and play so severely that you end up doing neither.

While the Circle was relatable and a very probable insight into the social implications of technology, I found myself despising every single character. I really didn’t care if their lives worsened because they were bringing it all on themselves. They immersed themselves in a culture they hated, used and abused colleagues for their own gain, and hurtled headfirst into creating tech that was beyond morally objectionable. Not only that, but society outside of the Circle seemed to encourage this behaviour and embraced the results. Why would I sympathise? I just wanted them all to destroy themselves.

I just couldn’t understand why there weren’t more ‘rebels’ in the Circle, or at least more genuine moments of doubt. Just as an example of this, a love interest of Mae’s decides to video the two of them during a sexual tryst without asking for her consent. When she finds out and asks him to delete the footage, he argues that he shouldn’t have to because data is an immortal, integral aspect of history, a protected moment in time, and it would be a disservice to humanity to erase it – a sentiment that originated from the Circle, of course. Mae reluctantly accepts this philosophy, but it felt implausible for her character to do this. His actions were abnormal, even amongst the Circle. He was not just someone living and working in an age of unimaginable technological capabilities. Mae knew that he was in the wrong, and that his perversion was not a product of the Circle, but I don’t think Eggers did enough to emphasise this.

Too often technology is blamed for immoral behaviour, rather than being seen as a new way in which to carry it out. Video games and movies do not encourage murder and rape, and social media does not encourage bullying. The vicious thoughts are already in our heads.

I know the Circle is meant to be a dissection of human behaviour with the aid of technology, not an insight into the technology itself, but it has become a scapegoat. I recently deleted all social media apps from my phone, telling myself that they are to blame for my lack of productivity and self-worth, but it’s not altogether true. The real cause is the unnaturalness of my life.

I shouldn’t have the time to think about my self-worth. None of us should. We’re all angry, frustrated animals that live in self-imposed cages. We’re all waiting for something to change while ensuring we remain stuck and miserable. Technology has allowed this to continue, but removing it is not the answer either.

I often think what the human race would need to be set back to zero. What we would need for us to be released from our cages. As this is a dystopian website, it comes as no surprise that some form of apocalypse has crossed my mind, but would reversing progression better us as a species? Are human beings only good, happy and noble creatures when fighting for survival? Or does peril just mask the need that will always be within us to dominate and destroy?

When animals are fed and safe and happy, they’re friendlier, calmer. Why aren’t we the same? I don’t usually agree with separating human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom, but after reading the Circle I am starting to think of us as an unnatural parasite. An alien. The odd one out on a planet that just seems to make more sense without us.

Oh dear. What a rather sour note to end a blog post on.

Erm…here’s a photo of a sleeping rat.


E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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