By Kayleigh Karutis
Most millennials--most people, whether Gen X, Gen Y, baby boomers, or otherwise--are pretty much glued to their mobile devices these days. How many of us have captured a moment solely to share it on Facebook or Instagram? How many of us have then spent the time we should have spent enjoying our experience obsessively checking our phones to see how many likes or follows or retweets we’ve gotten?
The proliferation of social media in the past decade or so has led to unplug-yourself bootcamps and digital detoxes, all focused on restoring a sense of humanity in participants who’ve based their value on the number of followers their Twitter account has.
David Egger’s most recent book “The Circle,” soon to be a feature film starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, is a digital detox in word form. Need something to help break your addiction to your mobile devices and digital existence? Read this book. You may find your fingers no longer itch to tap the Facebook or Instagram icon on your phone quite as often.
The book focuses on the life and aspirations of protagonist Mae, a young woman beginning her first day of work at the Circle. The Circle is a futuristic tech and social media company that basically amounts to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Disneyland all rolled into one massive campus.
The cult-like aspects of the Circle’s culture begin to emerge from day one, as Mae is instructed to create (and then chided for not completing) a personal profile that acts as her face to the Circle community. She’s soon spending all her spare time focused on increasing her “Participation Rank” through commenting, liking and reposting content shared by other employees.
Soon enough she’s eschewing her own apartment, which has become increasingly neglected and, as a result, undesirable, to remain on campus at all times in the dorm-like domiciles created just for Circle employees. She dons a wearable camera that tracks her movements to all her followers, and the mantra “Secrets are lies, privacy is theft” becomes the rule of the day. She mocks her parents and former boyfriend for preferring a simpler life, and can’t understand why they don’t want to utilize the power of the network to solve every challenge they face.
Through it all, she’s engaging in a mysterious affair with a fellow Circler whose identity she can’t seem to ascertain, and whose messages grow increasingly worrisome as the Circle’s efforts to eliminate privacy grow.
Egger’s narrative follows the same pace of acceleration as our culture’s obsession with social media. The novel begins with a spark, then builds to a slow burn as the reader senses growing unease. The fire builds as Mae sinks further into the cult, whose motives she sometimes questions, only to dismiss her own concerns as silly. The reader may find that questions raised in previous pages now seem a bit less important, as the insidious Circle “logic” casts doubt upon doubt.
The fire builds faster as Mae descends into the Circle, and the narrative flies by until its abrupt and pivotal ending. It’s hard to put down, and the plot’s rapid acceleration only fans the flames. A reader might end up devouring the last hundred pages in one final, glutinous effort.
Everything about “The Circle” echoes the tendencies and emotions attached to social media. It’s so easy to become entrenched in it - to base ones opinion of themselves on how well or poorly their latest post performed. It can be vicious and unforgiving while simultaneously inspiring and affirming.
After putting “The Circle” down, you may want to unplug for a while. Don’t resist this urge. Instead, take solace in the fact that you’ve read a paper-and-ink work of fiction - and didn’t spend an hour scrolling through your newsfeed instead