Friday, 14 March 2014

Sister Reads | Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Book: The Circle 

Author: Dave Eggers 

Pages: Around 450 odd (on the Kindle)

Plot Summary: 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 America—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.

My Thoughts: When I first stumbled upon the www (whose 25th birthday was yesterday, btw) in 1997, my mind was blown by how it was full of easy-to-access information and how it connected people from different corners of the world. Over the years, of course, the www has grown in leaps and bounds and so have we with it. Personally, I went from being very reluctant to share any personal information or even share my real name online to, well, being present on some social media and willing to relinquish some amount of anonymity- though, I still prefer to stay anonymous of most social forums. Call me old school :) 

Social media is really powerful and omnipresent. We are encouraged to share our thoughts, pictures in as little as 140 words or in as many words as we like. All of that is completely wonderful because this allows us to get reviews of things from real people, meet other people 'like us' on multiple social networks and simply just connect with people from different parts of the world. Personally, I love finding like-minded and interesting people who live in different parts of the world (I am looking at all of you, my Instagram friends *grin*). I also love the sense of community that social platforms provide. 

Now, why is all this important to say when it comes to reviewing this book? Well, it is important because this book makes you think really hard about where you stand on the whole issue of social media, sharing, information and privacy. 

For instance, like I said, I love sharing thoughts, opinions and pictures with everyone but not necessarily aspects of my identity. That's my preference and I love that it is still optional  to use your real identity on all social platforms. I love that we still have the option to be as private as we want to. Privacy and choice are the two key issues that this book makes you think about. 

What I Liked: I liked how quickly the protagonist- Mae- went from being all shrug-this-social-aspect-of-my-work-is-stupid to becoming this social network ninja and maven!  Mae, in some ways, represents most of us. We, possibly, would have also focused on the work at hand at the company rather than spending time connecting with colleagues (quite literally in Mae's case via the company's social networking site). So, there Mae was- in the first world-class job of her life- taking it all in at the rather impressive IT company and getting her feel of the place when her boss calls her in. He praises her performance but expresses his disappointment in Mae "not allowing others at The Circle to know her better". And how would the others "know Mae better"? Via Mae sharing her opinions and even the most private aspects of her life on social media. For instance, Mae sometimes liked to go kayaking alone and she never mentioned this on any social platforms or took pics or share anything about it. Kayaking was an intensely personal experience for Mae and she used that time to think and reflect. However, when her boss forces her to mention what she did on a particular weekend (because her social footprint "went completely blank" once she left work on Friday evening), Mae happened to mention kayaking and her boss guilt-trips her into believing that the act of not sharing her hobby and experience with others was selfish and that's how The Circle would see it. 

This whole conversation resonated strongly with me because I have had a boss tell me to eat lunch with different sets of colleagues and not just with my 'work friends'. Of course, I did nothing of that sort! Lunch is my time at work and I will bloody well eat with whosoever I please! But I am sure you see how insane this is?! How can being forced to share your thoughts and reviews be mandatory?! I share because I want to- that's how it ought to work! 

What I Didn't Like: Mae's escalation from being this wary-of-social-media to becoming the company's mascot for transparency and sharing was a tad too soon to be realistic in any sense. It ruined the book for me. I liked the tempo up until this happened. 

I also didn't quite get the point of Mae's romp in the sack with mystery man Kalden was ridiculously pointless! It is pretty obvious who he really is and so, the charade is kinda pointless! :) 

Will You Like It?: Yes. It will make you think about issues of privacy and the need to have options when it comes to privacy and what we want to share or not on social media. 

Rating: 4/5 

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