The Circle: High Tech Paranoia

The Circle book cover

If you were already paranoid, Dave Eggers’ The Circle will fuel that flame.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that their Internet usage is being tracked.

Ignoring conspiracy theories and the NSA,  online retailers use what’s called a tracking pixel to show you ads on other websites for products you’ve recently looked at.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 records every keystroke and Cortana voice command. Google records everything you ask in Google Now. Apple is doing the same with Siri.

Facebook’s mobile app can turn your phone’s microphone on to listen to your surroundings.

In the November issue of the Atlantic, Walter Kirn writes we should all be a little paranoid. He says we’re crazy if we aren’t.

The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is all of that and some extra surveillance taken to the next level.

The story follows Mae Holland as she starts working for a Google-esque company called The Circle.  During her time there, she moves up the ranks from lowly customer service rep to the face of the company. Gaining notoriety from strangers while isolating herself from real connections at the same time.

But that story takes a back seat to the Circle’s goal to store and categorize every piece of information available through various services.

Those services include surveillance cameras at every corner, wearable tech that monitors your health, body cameras, online payment systems, and implanted tracking chips.

It has the feel of George Orwell’s classic 1984, but it’s not the same. In 1984, “big brother” is already in charge. But in Dave Eggers’ The Circle, we see the company become more powerful with each passing chapter. (I wondered if Eggers muttered “there’s no more privacy” as he furiously pounded his keyboard?)


The book’s message is subtle at the start, but by the end, it’s smacking you in the face with a wet trout. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the story’s length makes it more tedious than it needs to be.

That could have been saved with some interesting characters.  But the only fully rounded character is Mae, the book’s protagonist and by the end of the story, she changed into a two dimensional characterization of herself. 

What makes The Circle worth reading, and borderline frightening, is the similarities between Eggers’ work of fiction and the real world. All it would take is one company to beat, or buy, the competition and develop gear and gadgets for various industries.


Dave Eggers’ The Circle does a good job of taking our current reality and taking it to the next level. It becomes tedious by the last act, but by that time, you’ll already be invested and will burn through the remaining pages. Read it if you want, but the movie adaptation is coming out in 2016.

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