Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Circle, revisited

If you're a movie hound, then maybe you've heard that David Eggers' The Circle will be hitting the big screen on April 28. Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Bill Paxton, and more, it promises to be an entertaining way to pass two hours or so. But have you read the book? I wrote about it a few years back, but if you've forgotten, well, read on.

Have you ever wanted to just grab someone by the shoulders and shake them awake because they seemed oblivious to the seriousness of the things happening around them--or worse, the things happening to them?  If not, allow me to introduce you to Mae Holland (Emma Watson), the naïve young protagonist of The Circle. Trust me, you'll want to do more than just shake her by the book's end.

Truthfully, I really liked Mae at first. I especially enjoyed her excitement and wide-eyed wonder at landing a dream job at one of the world's most powerful tech companies, the Circle. Like most new employees, Mae is eager to please her superiors, including her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who pulled strings to get her the job, but in doing so she seems almost as eager to give herself away in the process. For example, all Circle employees are expected to participate in various company activities (there are hundreds to choose from) and contribute to the company's social-network feeds (Zing, InnerCircle, OuterCircle, etc.), all of which is taken into account when calculating an employee's "Participation Rank." Okay, whatever: The food in the cafeteria today was excellent. Zing! But when Mae is dressed down for spending a weekend at home rather than staying on campus and "participating," not to mention having the gall to go kayaking without documenting any of it on her social feeds, I was bothered by her acceptance of these criticisms as valid. Unfortunately, Mae telling her supervisors that what she does on her own time is her own business would have been useless, because at the Circle, everything you do is the Circle's business. Rather than rebel, Mae acquiesces, and in doing so, she begins to lose herself.

By the time we reach the second act of the story, Orwellian slogans are being trotted out at a company pep-rally--SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, and PRIVACY IS THEFT. (Seriously, didn't any of these people read 1984?) Mae finds herself rising quickly through the company ranks and becoming a star both inside and outside the Circle--and, of course, chief rival to Annie for the attention of their social-network overlords. The price is Mae's sense of self and any remaining scrap of privacy she might have held onto, as well as her friendship with Annie. Admittedly, much of what happens in this half of the book is so over the top that I found it silly, but with the ever-growing reach of surveillance, it may not be beyond the realm of possibility.

So there you have it. I can't promise that the movie will do the book justice (they almost never do, understandably), but if your interest is piqued, give it a shot. And by all means, read the book!


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