i have never been legitimately angry at a book before…until now

Well, in case you were curious, resolution #3 (“Read at least one new book per month”) is already way ahead of schedule. I’m on my fourth new book for 2014, and I’ve still got plenty waiting in the wings.

So far I have read The Night Circus by Eric Morganstern; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; and Serena by Ron Rash. Each was an excellent read, and though I’d love to get into their details, that will have to wait for another post.

Because right now I am supremely angry at the book I am currently reading– The Circle by Dave Eggers.

The Circle

Just to give you some scope, here’s Amazon’s synopsis:

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.

So basically, the Circle is like a Google/Apple/Facebook corporation of Godzilla proportions. They do the software, they do the devices, they do the social networks, they do everything. Their big thing is “TruYou,” one single identity for a person to use across the entire Internet, and it has supposedly eradicated online identity theft and other similar crimes.

Long story short, the Circle is about as close as a company can get to observing, recording, and documenting every moment of every person’s life. It’s Orwell’s 1984 updated for today, and creepy as all mess.

Now, this novel is not the best written thing I’ve ever read, and it’s heavy-handed in its preaching, but it still very much succeeds in getting me angry about what it wants me to get angry about. Namely, the myth that we can’t exist without it be recorded, posted online to be shared with the world.

[WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead]

One particular scene riled me up the most. In it, Mae, our protagonist, is called in to talk to some of the HR reps because of “non-participation.” According to the ideals of the Circle, one should fully immerse into the workplace community, attending extracurricular campus parties, new worker gatherings, and brunches about Portugal.

“But I have gone to some of the campus parties,” argues Mae.

“But no!” they argue back, “You didn’t upload a picture, or zing about it, or let the entire world know you went, so you must not have been there at all/not have enjoyed it!” (I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist.)

Then they start in again, “You disappeared off the grid this weekend.”

“My dad has MS, and he had a seizure. So I went home to help. On the way back, I went kayaking in the bay,” Mae responds.

The HR reps are hurt, “Why haven’t you joined any of the MS support groups? Why haven’t you told us you like to kayak? Why don’t you share this information? Are you self-conscious about this? Do you feel like your opinions aren’t valid? You’re hurting us by not sharing your entire life with us.” And so on and so forth. Essentially, they attack her for keeping parts of her life private.

And the real kicker is, MAE ACCEPTS THIS AS VALID. She apologizes and vows to become more of a participant.

[Insert .gif of me pulling my hair out and screaming]

After I read this scene, I literally had to put the book down and pace the room for a while to cool off. I was so angry with these fictional HR reps. How dare they insist that a person can’t keep parts of their own lives private? How can you demand that of someone? If a person wants to kayak without a phone, wants to not take pictures, wants to disconnect, why shouldn’t they be able to? Why is that a bad thing?

Then, of course, the shoe dropped, and I realized that we actually are on a path to something very much like this if we’re not careful. We are connected 24/7. We tweet, like, pin, and instagram a great portion of our lives. Very few of us leave our phones out of eyesight for very long, and we are constantly ready to respond if our tinny text message tone beckons us. Yes, we still have many secrets and most of us still maintain our privacy, but it’s a slippery slope.

And I’m not saying that smart phones and Facebook are bad things. Half my job revolves around social media, for crying out loud. I’m just saying it’s something we should be cautious of and give more thought to. I’m as guilty of tech-obsession as the next guy, and I don’t want my future looking like the one laid out in The Circle.

Now, I’m only about 60% of the way through the book, so I’ll update y’all again when I’m done, but I just had to “scream” my frustration with this dystopia (and yes, I do note the irony in “screaming” this on a public blog that’s promoted via social media).

It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive. -The Circle, by Dave Eggers


One thought on “i have never been legitimately angry at a book before…until now

  1. Pingback: 2014 bookshelf update | various and sundry

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