BOOK REVIEW: Dave Eggers’ The Circle is Must-Read Fiction for Internet Marketers
It’s the eve of 2014 and a new year necessitates a new reading list. For Internet marketers, Dave Eggers’ “The Circle” is one book you won’t want to leave off that list. “The Circle” provides an account of a young woman’s rise to the upper echelons of the Circle, a company of the future dominating both the search and social spheres.
Though fiction, “The Circle” provides an eerily familiar account of “the most influential company in the world’s” ever-evolving technology and ever-increasing power sure to intrigue Internet marketers and community managers. When you’re ready for a break from how-tos and manuals, I recommend “The Circle,” where you’ll dive into the long-term implications — if only fictitious — of a Google-esque empire’s rise. Read on to discover why this book should be your next choice when it comes to fiction.
Familiar Setting and Technology in “The Circle”
In an interview with McSweeney’s, Eggers stated that “The Circle” is not based on Google or any single search or social company — “the book takes place after a company called the Circle has subsumed all the big tech companies around today,” he said.
And yet … the Circle is again and again reminiscent of real world search and social media companies. Not unlike a number of Bay Area leading Internet companies, the Circle headquarters are run from a campus. The Circle campus:
- spans 400 acres
- is largely built of brushed steel and glass
- is surrounded by open land
- boasts amenities such as theaters, tennis courts, a volleyball court and an aquarium to rival SeaWorld
Like Facebook, the Circle’s campus is peppered with inspirational phrases. For Circlers, it’s “Dream,” “Participate,” “Find Community,” “Innovate,” “Imagine” and “Breathe.” For Menlo Park’s Facebook campus, it’s “Keep It Simple.” These messages also call to mind Google’s long-time informal slogan “Don’t Be Evil.”
The similarities don’t end there. Like Google’s executive triumvirate (Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt), the Circle is run by “Three Wise Men.” The Circle’s “passion projects” are reminiscent of Google’s “moonshot thinking,” and then, of course, there’s the fact that Google+ is actually comprised of … circles.
Then there’s the Circle’s technology. In the McSweeney’s interview, Egger also revealed that “a lot of times, I’d think of something that a company like the Circle might dream up, something a little creepy, and then I’d read about the exact invention, or even something more extreme, the next day.”
In Seven Technologies Predicted in Dave Eggers’ (The Circle) That Already Exist, author Leo Mirani points out the real life examples of technology from The Circle, including mass surveillance, national genetic databases, reusable spacecraft, health monitors and self-driving cars.
Protagonist Mae Holland’s Challenges are Compelling
Whether you’re a community manager or a recreational social media enthusiast, you might, to some degree, relate to protagonist Mae Holland — she struggles to keep up with an onslaught of information and a litany of data and scores — and as those scores begin to rise, do does her obsession.
Given how close she was to the top 2,000, she stayed at her desk late through the weekend and early the next week, determined to crack through, sleeping in the same dorm room every night. She knew the upper 2,000, nicknamed T2K, was a group of Circlers almost maniacal in their social activity and elite in their corresponding followers.
Mercer, Holland’s ex-boyfriend finds her preoccupation with zings, feeds, ratings and shares unsettling:
Every time I see or hear from you, it’s through this filter. You send me links, you quote someone talking about me, you say you saw a picture of me on someone’s wall … it’s always this third-party assault. Even when I’m talking to you face-to-face you’re telling me what some stranger thinks of me. It’s like we’re never alone. Every time I see you, there’s a hundred other people in the room. You’re always looking at me through a hundred other people’s eyes … there’s this new neediness — it pervades everything … The tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is fellow Circler Josiah, who is “visibly shaken knowing that Mae hadn’t been reading his WNBA feed.”
The Circle Reads Like the Prequel to 1984
The Circle is a publicly traded company — it’s independent from the government … for the time being. Without giving anything away, this book reads like the moment right before totalitarianism. As “Hey You Geeks” podcast host Tony Nunes tweeted yesterday that this book “the prequel to every dystopian book you’ve read, only steeped in reality.”
As one character eventually asks “How can anyone rise up against the Circle if they control all the information and access to it?” The implications of autocracy and monopolization are a recurring theme throughout the novel.
Digital security is a hot topic in the real world as well as the world of the novel. This month, more than 500 distinguished writers (Eggers among them) signed the International Bill of Digital Rights — a petition to protect citizens against the government’s ability to, “with a few clicks of the mouse … access your mobile device, your e-mail, your social networking, and your Internet searches.” The petition continues:
The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.
This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.
A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.
Whether or not you view Internet security (or lack thereof) as a breach of the Fourth Amendment right “against unreasonable search and seizure,” the topic is on the global table and books like Eggers’ “The Circle” are very much a part of the conversation.
Bottom line? It’s all right to make room for fiction on your 2014 reading list alongside your Internet marketing guides (including Bruce Clay’s latest book Content Marketing Strategies for Marketing Professionals, co-authored by Murray Newlands and including insights from 12 Internet marketing experts including Jonathon Colman, Lee Odden and Andy Crestodina).
Have you read Eggers’ The Circle? How did Eggers’ depiction of emerging technology affect your own views on technology? Share with us in the comments.