The Dystopia of “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

book jacket red cover white circle logo of storyThe Circle by Dave Eggers (c 2013)

Dystopia in the near future described as the hell it would be if the “share everything” becomes a coerced “share everything” panopticon world of my worst nightmares described in this book.

The is the book that received a perfect 100 score referenced by a previous post and discussed on Book TV, The Bestseller Code. This book was a bestseller and received a perfect score of 100 based on the computer algorithms by Archer and Jockers.

Reading the book jacket text frames the expectations of a book so you can guess if things that seem good will turn out to be rotten or have a happy ending. A few are unpredictable journeys and this book is one of those.

WARNING: SPOILERSI have read many many books about surveillance, fiction, dystopias, nonfiction, and made multiple attempts to write with contemporary reality of surveillance and DNA testing and all that plus what I would do if I were an evil and paranoid overlord in the future and wanted to know everything about everyone. I am a very creative thinker so always managed to poke holes in my plots with basic sensible things that made it easier for evil with no constraints to win and as an idealist I found that unacceptable, so I stop writing the story because I don’t want to live even in a fictional world where you end up completely able to be tracked and monitored and judged for your actions by anyone and their mother. Maybe that’s part of the reason George Orwell’s 1984 resonated so with me. I would recommend reading it, as well as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley before reading The Circle just because the author clearly knows the book and there are subtle references and allusions to Winston by what the protagonist, Mae, does in the end.

For example, the scene in Indiana Jones where he doesn’t contest the very large sword wielding and accomplished fighter but simply takes out his gun and shoots the sword out of the man’s hand and gets out of there. A bad guy would have killed the opponent. In all the Bond books/films, you really have to suspend your disbelief to accept the bizarre and ridiculous methods the megalomaniacs devise to kill Bond — always walking away and leaving him unguarded so that he can escape. Sometimes authors come up with lame reasons like “he must be taken alive” or the CEO has ethics that will cause the world to starve if countries don’t pay billions for something or other but won’t let assassins kill the protagonist(s). The TV show hero who “doesn’t like guns” so always ends up in a fist fight with Judo or other martial arts moves. Literally throws away the opponents guns rather than keep and prevent them from getting up and using them later, which they sometimes do and sometimes are just ignored and forgotten.

Within the first few pages, while interested to see how the story would unfold and with interesting characters to lead the way, I was sad to be dismayed by the excessive and no doubt irrelevant details of the world building Eggers does that drowns out all else. Amusing in places, with the imagined tech (retinal communication) and massive social networking within the company and more, but with no actually point integrating it to the plot of the story.

The obvious knock off of the whole “campus” concept was tedious in the extreme.  Starting with the excessive and pretentious naming of the various work areas by periods in history (Old West, Renaissance, etc.)  with decor to match and the expense of the amenities and detailing and authentic art including actual ceilings from a church in Rome, it was beyond ridiculous.

This is a company full of workaholics with tough standards of job performance and they have pools, and sports facilities, and movies with directors discussing, and wine parties, and massages and daily activities (“featured activities appeared on every elevator wall”), dorm rooms, and private libraries “old school” and naturally “leather bound” volumes by one of the top three guys in charge.

So much glass everywhere, but no mention of a/c costs or a point for all the glass — unless it will later be a foreshadowing plot point where the protagonist can’t hide. With all glass walls and offices and even transparent laptops the visual cacophony would be annoying, disorienting, and creepy. Hard to justify on so many levels.

[post finished the book comment, it would seem that the glass building being “transparent” relates to the concept of The Circle campus being transparent and then the world. A little heavy handed and obvious as well as hard to get past my suspension of disbelief that glass would be optimal building material in sunny California with multiple screens being used by workers with the ensuing glare, heat build up, and so on. The expense and emphasis on the various decor sections has no actual function to the story, so one wonders why bother?]

So then I come to page 6 and after arriving up an four stories via the techno elevator, Mae, the protagonist makes a comment about vertigo. Then they proceed to walk across a catwalk:

The catwalk reached the main floor, wide and windowed and bisected by a long hallway. On either side, the offices were fronted by floor-to-ceiling glass, the occupants visible within. Each had decorated his or her space elaborately  but tastefully — one office full of saying paraphernalia, most of it seeming airborne, hanging from the exposed beams, another arrayed with bonsai trees. They passed a small kitten the cabinets and shelves all glass, the cutlery magnetic attached to the refrigerator in a tidy grid, everything illuminated by a vast hand-blown chandelier aglow with multicolor bulls, its arms reaching out in orange and peach and pink. (p. 7)

I have only tried to read one Eggers stories before, but don’t know that this level of meaningless excessive adjectives is his usual technique or not. So many words spent (maybe he is paid by the word?) to describe something with no apparent function, but I will reserved judgment.

It’s just seeming like a lot of heavy handed setup, like any time a character is wearing white, I just know someone is going to get shot or knifed or even the white-wearing person, so that the bright red “blood” features more prominently. In this case, I am going to assume that there will be a massive shattering of glass as a climax. We shall see if I am right.

[post finished reading: Nope not one singe plot line that required glass to break. There is a name for these little setups, something more specific than foreshadowing. The author plants a little seemingly inconsequential throw away nugget that later turns out to be meaningful. For people who read a lot like I do, this means you tend to be on heightened alert for something so specifically mentioned, like the elevator and suspension bridge. But in this case, it mean absolutely nothing. No hand to hand combat and someone falling to their death, or even a return visit to the location or mention of any elevator again. See below.]

The other thing that made my suspension of disbelief even harder was the whole elevator to go up only to arrive at a catwalk. Why would there not be an elevator on the other side? Why should they have to go across a catwalk at all other than to have some future potential of crashing and dropping danger like the rope bridge in the second Indiana Jones.

Her $224,000 debt from Carleton College took me by surprise since it wasn’t that expensive back in the day, but I checked and it is ridiculously priced now (as are they all). It’s also difficult for me to believe that she even found Carleton as a college to go to in Minnesota rather than California colleges. Who would voluntarily live in Minnesota if they could live an equal quality of life? I ask because I have lived in both places and there is no contest, especially on -23 with windchill nights.

[post read comment: again, very little attention is paid to the college debt after the first mention. It has been too long since I first read the first part to recall if the company paid off her loans, but maybe they did. That is crazy of course, no capitalist corporation would pay out a quarter of a million dollars for an ordinary employee. Then he doesn’t really talk about what she is paid, or how much more she gets with promotions or other aspects, which should be central to her motivation to continue on in the company; obstacles like lack of money or the extensive issue of parental medical needs (MS, which I have) that simply serves as an initial loyalty inducing event but then she just lets the parents go away. So she goes from being very concerned about the parents to seeking the adoration of smile icon from strangers. The author, being a man, I do not think really wrote the women characters very well. In one sense I suppose it is okay because the actions could have been done by a male or female, but I think it is weird that he constrained her personal “circle” to be so small: the friend, Annie, who got her the job, and her inadequate fuck buddy, evil genius Francis. The passing intersection with “Kalden” — who was so obviously going to be Ty it was no surprise at all to anyone at the end I should have thought, was not really a friendship, it was a plot device. Plus the whole random sex at the drop of a hat did not ring true to any character who had just started a new job.]

Which reminds me of the one specific instance that was setup exactly as an incident to lead to Mae’s downfall: the video Francis took of her giving him a hand job. First of all, no woman today much less in the short term future would be stupid enough to be caught by video (at least I hope not). We know Francis is truly wicked because he does record the sex without her consent. NO WOMAN HAVING BEEN THUS VIOLATED would ever have sex with such a man again. Add to that the MISERABLE incompetence of Francis’s sexual ability (one and done) begs the question of why Mae would not find someone who could perform sexually since basically that was the sole point of their relationship. In terms of plot construction, it is simply a way to work the whole plot line into interaction of dialog between them starting with the favorite totalitarian methodology of “safety” and fear stoking in order to get people to willingly give up their freedom.

But worst of all, the author never has any consequences to Mae for this video. She tells the world the confidential information her friend Annie confides in her under a carefully orchestrated intention of “helping” when anyone with a brain would KNOW that it was a bad idea. Mae’s character is barely developed as a critical thinker (not at all really) and is tainted as a protagonist from the start from her stated envy of Annie. This sets up the traditional dog eat dog of female friendships that is a cruel trope. We don’t all envy the more athletic, beautiful, or whatever other women. True friendship would not have allowed her character to become so sheeplike. Therefore Mae is worse than a flawed human being from the start and the author does not build up a convincing case, despite the hypnotic dialog that pulls her along into the whole “transparency is good” and privacy is bad world. Any thinking human when confronted with all the invasiveness of the technology would, to be a more interesting multidimensional character, would not be so completely stupid as to drive her ex-husband to kill himself, literally.

The whole thing with the ex was such a set up from the start, playing a tiny bit of a devil’s advocate to foreshadow his death at her hands, her contempt for him from the start is hard to accept that she would ever have married him. Plus it was clearly a case of what makes it acceptable for a woman to have fast and random sex with strangers? Having been married before. No male character I recall ever has had to have been married before to fuck the first woman he sees. And all the women he wants to fuck always want to fuck him too. One dystopia that was otherwise a good story even had the old hooker with a heart of gold that fucked the manly protagonist for free because he was just so manly. Gag. It is becoming something of a joke; it has been used so many times that writers are “empowering” women by instead of just having sex because they want to have sex (God Forbid), they now frequently have an ulterior motive, and turn out to have had sex merely to steal something for the evil male opponent, or some kind of double cross. This plays right into the female seductress trope. What is always funny to me is that a 10 hot babe, always younger and with amply displayed cleavage, going after so old git or chubby glasses wearing nerd, or other clearly mismatched and inexperienced man BELIEVES SINCERELY THAT HE IS SEXUALLY DESIRABLE to the babe. Picture Mitch McConell and tell me how much money it would take for you to have sex with him? There is not enough money in the world for me; I’m not saying I’m a prize, but gee he is ugly on the outside and despicable on the inside. There is no reason at all to explain why Mae continues to have sex with Francis. The slight passing reference to her finding him desirable again when another woman seems to be interested is not only a foul trope full of misogyny, but given his sexual performance, completely ridiculous. The author must think that women would rather have any man however inadequate, than just hang out with women friends. All those non-work facilities and opportunities and she wastes her time with this loser and working? Yuck.

The fact that she will so clearly drink the Kool-aid from the start did not leave much room for suspense. Just a matter of seeing how far and how bad she would become. But like Winston, she is fated to be complicit. That’s why I say it is informing to have read 1984 first. Me, I would not have had Mae succumb though in the face of the massive surveillance and totalitarian system, I doubt there is anything that she and Annie and “Kalden” could have done: this is the ultimate terror of this particular Brave New World. Between when I started this book and now, we have a new #45 president and all the book sale increases of 1984 are for a good reason. There has been a coup. The new regime does not care about you or me or anyone. And there are only collaborators in positions of power. Everyone has done dumb stuff in their life. Some more than most, but it would seem that a substantial number of our privileged citizens would rather see it all burn down than fight back. Especially when the odds seem unsurmountable, and there is no way to know if the price of your life will make a bit of difference.

I still find it hard to believe good overcame evil of WWI and WWII especially. If there had been the technology we have today in the hands of Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler, we would all be dead I think. Or enslaved. So the rise of the authoritarian theocracy and cruelty of unfettered capitalism with no regard for the common good is all too real of a possibility.

The most glaring absence of any religiosity in the book may have made for a cleaner narrative, but it is a fundamental rock around the neck of a drowning citizen. It is part and parcel of “morality” judgements about the acceptability of chasing down escaped criminals or forever tacking and punishing criminals who have done their time. Yes, it is an obvious extension of what we have now, and that really should make us consider what we are doing now. People are flawed, people are victims. Is it right to forever tag a man who steals bread and peanut butter to feed his hungry children with an orange glow forever attached to him?

I know in a democracy the “good” part is that majority rules. But the bad part is that for the last few decades, when the majority rules, they do so with blind ambition, party loyalty, personal beliefs, and no moral obligation to the common good, and certainly none to the politically powerless: the contemptible poor takers a la Ayn Rand’s novel that has become the playbook of cruel scum like Paul Ryan. No mercy, no compassion, HELP IS HARMFUL, and other jingoisms to justify their greed and selfishness.]

And, okay, maybe I am little sexist, but really, did the company have to run by 3 dudes referred to as the Three Wise Men? [post read comment: no ultimate reference to the Biblical three wise men evolved] Gag. It seems sexist to me that for all the future sort of setting with the company they still couldn’t found a company b 2 men and a woman, or two women and a man.

[post finished comment: Because of all the people who have the greatest amount to fear in this society and who would benefit most from constant surveillance, it is women who are beaten, raped, and abused. I suppose ideologically, having the men have idealistic “safety” concerns is possible, but I can’t help but think control issues ended up dominated their motivation.]

It doesn’t sound like anyone gave a damn about giving all their data and social media contacts and bank accounts and basically every aspect of your life over to be integrated in the company system for convenience without any qualms. I would run screaming from that situation myself.. While really absent data about what they do and how they charge for it to enable the excessive consumption of the massages and so forth, and hardware costs, with no privacy to blow your nose, and employees get a chance to develop their own thing, little pet projects, it is a ridiculous premise.

Most of page 30 describes other time consuming ‘benefits” like culinary class taught by “celebrated your chef” and “arcade stocked with orange pinball machines and an indoor badminton court, where Annie said, a former world champion was kept on retainer. ”  At some point he even discusses the numerous famous musicians that come to do gigs FOR FREE (scoff) just because it is a cool place to play.

And you know it isn’t going to turn out well for Mae when she simply signs employment contracts without reading them and provides fingerprints, and other forms. Then they transfer all her data from her laptop to the company provided tablet — which is of course, not available on the market yet. And transfer her phone data. My skin was crawling at this point because it was so clearly not something a person should do who has any sense of self-preservation or 12 active braincells. They even try to get her own laptop away from her under the guise of recycling it.

[post read comment: the whole data dump of her material never comes back to bite her. No pictures of bad hair days, or so much more that I would never want public, and I have mainly lived an analog life. That anyone could not see how bad all this corrosive and creeping control is and move, heroically to stop it, is indicative of the true horror of the premise. We are all complicit. The LYNCH HER mob mentality was stopped, but the world had already tried and condemned the woman they track down as a test. Given that we live in a world where police shoot unarmed black men with impunity, the danger of actual lynching like in the South on false testimony is all too likely. Furthermore, the instance used, a woman locking her children in a closet and leaving for a month to vacation in Spain was completely off the charts unbelievable. If he based that on a true incident I would be shocked. That would certainly indicate severe mental illness that would certainly have been noticed and had intervention before that point.]

My life has been forever directed down a path beginning with George Orwell’s 1984, and Animal Farm, as well as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Too many men who play the boyfriend turns out to be the murderer in mystery books; especially if the woman is getting undressed to take a shower and invariably is wearing a white robe. Too many TV shows and Film Noir where the dame walks in and NO ONE EVER ASKS FOR IDENTIFICATION, and they are never who they claim to be. So pithy kitten posters hanging from branches saying “hang in there” are not the kind of mindless aphorism I take kindly to, and having stupid signage to be “inspirational” as you are walking down a hall (“breathe”) just wants to make me laugh or barf. “Person to person” and “No robots work here” as company missions are so granola.

The lollipop cameras made me shudder but were received with huge enthusiastic applause. No one seemed to think it was not creepy to bug his mother’s house so that he could “protect her” without her knowing, peeking in at her wrapped in a towel coming from a shower. No concept of how demeaning and authoritarian such behavior actually was because it was for her “own good”  — the great rationale to take away privacy rights, and any and all civil rights by control freaks like this.

By page 86 I am wondering if he is somewhat doing a parody of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. All these young people with no collective body of knowledge and based on today’s university educations, barely literate. Thirty was described as older person on campus.  While I know it is supposed to be creepy and a tale of warning of sorts, I really wish he would get on with some clarity and streamline things a bit. Unless the glass bulbs being peach are significant, even deliberately to obfuscate some plot twist, then I don’t care to waste my life reading 300 extras words of no significance.

But what really snapped my patience was brining Mae’s parents into the narrative by presenting her dad as failing health from multiple sclerosis. Which I also happen to have. They mention Copaxone, which I also happen to take, but make it sound like a pain killer, which it is most definitely not. So that makes me wonder: why MS, why sick dad, why have him have medical insurance issues? Admittedly we are looking at massive shit storm now, but 2013, no so much, and he had to have started writing before that publication date. But the portrayal of MS is not very accurate, despite the fact that there are so many variations. And once again, what’s the point?

I’m guessing she is going to want to develop some special project that can make a difference and then there will be some cure your dad or expose our evil, but then daddy will die scenario. But I will have to see how it evolves. I sure hope I am not right, that there are non cliche or tropes that will make this just another yawn that belies the 100 computer assignment for the rating of the book.

[Nope, absolutely no significance to the dad having MS other than a plot device to make her grateful for the insurance from the company. Which begs the question, in this near future, with all this tech, WHY THE FUCK IS THERE STILL A HEALTH INSURANCE BY PRIVATE COMPANIES SYSTEM? Single payer is the way of the civilized world. How can anyone build a future world where people still suffer and die from paperwork and industry dictates about what will be covered or not. No mention of the $4,000 plus cost of the American sticker retail price of COPAXONE per month either. Despite quite a few frequent mentions of diversity, in my mind the world of The Circle is all full of upper middle class educated privileged people who never suffered a day in their life. Maybe being young was a part of it, but again, the mention of her tuition debt — surely all those workers had similar debt? And why would the company pay more than minimum wage? The supply of people who want to work there would enable them to screw them over and NO CORPORATION existing today (except maybe Ben and Jerry’s) gives a shit about anything other than profit and high CEO salaries, and shareholder profits.

Why would students still be paying such high tuition? It seems to me with Stanford offering free classes online, that with all that technology, people could pick and choose professors and schools and take classes for free and skip the paper diploma. Learn to learn. ]

Okay, so I woke up this morning and realized what was really bothering me about the book so far, Then I dealt with some shredding and spent 45 minutes trying to get something simple done with a shitty user interface. Now I don’t remember what my epiphany was, but the fact that I just went through this ordeal on the crap interface made the super duper fantasy world of the Circle beyond laughable.

More significantly, and I suppose what the author intended, the world he was creating held NO APPEAL TO ME AT ALL. In fact it would rank on my visions of among the worst dystopias I have ever read about. And I have read a lot of them. They all, incidentally, seem to have one guaranteed element: prostitution continues as the enduring longest profession as the sad witticism goes. It remains to be seen if this book will have that feature, or one with the hooker with the heart of gold that has sex for free with the protagonist proving his (since virtually all men) open-mindedness, and trying to elevate prostitution as a preferred career choice for women.  This protagonist is a woman, but the same trope may occur. But I digress.

In addition to requiring a near perfection score of employees of 100%, which is ridiculous as it is meaningless, the protangonist, Mae, MUST participate in the massive company social network and activities. I felt like a hamster on a wheel just reading the deluge of detail from the author of the irrelevant dross employees are expected to slog through ON TOP OF DOING THEIR JOB while being told that being “social” is part of the job. This pretty much seems to mean 24×7 with no time to follow the urge of the tile to “breathe.”

The deluge of the “intra-company stream” would make me run screaming from the job. And not participating is not an option — you are rated and ranked by participation as part of job performance. Talk about peer pressure to follow along and get along. If you were to question any tiny element of anything the trolls would descend and you would be fired, which of course, she (like most story protagonists) cannot afford to lose her job because everywhere jobs suck, pay less, and she has her elderly and particularly debilitated father with MS to think about in all that she does.

Classic easy obstacle along with the need to protect someone else limiting your actions, friend’s probable betrayal by them having swallowed the Kool-aid, and she will certainly suffer some physical impairment along the way, literally making an obstacle for her to escape. If all of these do not come to pass, I will come back here and tell you I was wrong.

The Circle ranks employees by RANK. “Some people here call it the Popularity Rank, but it’s not really that. It’s just an algorithm-generated number that takes into account all your activity in the InnerCircle.”

Panopticon for everyone! Whee.

Of course it is a popularity contest, and one done by strangers who know nothing about you. All the employees, BTW, are under 30 for the most part, so that is pretty damning. Apart from those of us who grew up in the sixties with our “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra, the susceptibility to younger people to peer pressure is well known to squelch dissent.

“It takes into account zings, exterior followers of your intra-company zings, your comments on other Circlers’ profiles, your photos posted, attendance at Circle events, comments and photos posted about those events — basically it collects and CELEBRATES all you do here. The most active Circlers are ranked highest of course. As you can see, your rank is low now, but that’s because you’re new and we just activated your social feed. But overtime you post or comment or attend anything, that gets factored in, and you will see your rank change accordingly. That’s where the FUN COMES IN. You post, you rise in the rankings. A bunch of people like your post, and you really shoot up. It moves all day. Cool?”

“Very,” Mae said.

“We started you with a little boost — otherwise you’d be 10,411. And again, IT’S JUST FOR FUN. You’re not judged by your rank or anything Some Circlers take it very seriously, of course, and we love it when people want to participate, but the rank is really just a fun way to see how your participation manifest itself vis-à-vis the overall Circle community. Okay?”

“Okay.” (pp. 100-101)

I had a wretched professor, actually not a real one, just one brought in to cover a class that was required for a women’t studies minor that had never been filled as a position before because women’s studies was new enough and apparently no one had ever demanded the course before — it was, after all listed as available and required: Women and the Arts.

The teacher was a hippy dippy sort, who knew next to nothing about women in the arts generally, but as a woman composer available to teach, it was the best they could come up with, sadly, I knew much more than she did having been an actual feminist for years and I doubt she even considered herself one. I ended up with her deferring to me for basic knowledge on women in the arts, especially visual artists since I was a painter and knew my art history. However, she gave me no credit for all my participation and her constant calling on me to read something I wrote, or otherwise compliment my projects. That she ended up giving me a B came as a shock and I will never forget the lesson I learned there.

The lesson was that when someone says, “As far as I am concerned, you all get As just for showing up to class,” THEY ARE LIARS. Further post-hippie pass/fail, grades are subjective, and that sort of bullshit came from her mouth as she sat cross legged on a student chair/desk combo — with us all in a CIRCLE of course! So after showing up to every class, getting high praise for every project, leading the class in the visual arts section, I had to call her to ask her why a B? Her response was beyond maddening. In our last project, worth 25% of our grade (so much for you all get As) we were asked to do a paper on an artist. I asked to be able to do a paper on my experience as an artist. She denied (so much for easygoing) my request on the grounds that I would have an UNFAIR advantage over the other students (some of whom were also art majors!).

Instead I chose Maya Angelou because I had read all her books, admired her poetry, and thought her to be one of the finest people I ever had learned about. The point of the paper was to convey the essence of the artist. I did so with quotes from her books (that I owned) and other material (pre-Internet). I believed I really had gotten the rhythm of her poetry and the ups and downs of her life to that point (she later became the American poet and read a poem at President Obama’s inauguration).

The reason Little Miss Hippie gave me a B was “I didn’t see enough of YOU in the paper.” Since she had DENIED my use of myself as the subject, and the objective was to convey the ARTIST who was the subject, I was incredulous. And furious, as is obviously still the case. She refused to change the grade, so I graduated cum laude instead of summa cum laude. Not that anyone ever cared about it one way or the other, except maybe grad school, but I got in anyway, so I suppose we will call it no harm no foul, but I can’t be sure. Maybe I would have gotten a two year scholarship instead of one? You just can’t predict how one little thing can change your life.

It wasn’t until later that someone explained to me that there was actually a rule that in order to get into the University near where I lived, you actually had to QUALIFY by having a 3.5 or something out of 4 GPA. So that B instead of A, theoretically could have killed my chance at grad school. And she didn’t give a shit. She didn’t know shit. And she lied and so when I hear things like “believe me” and “trust me” and “it’s just for fun” all my spidey senses go on high alert because I know that someone is going to try to screw me so am on guard.

So to read something like “it’s just for fun” alarm bells are going off. Perhaps the author intends that or maybe my experiences have made me sensitive to nuance, or I have read too many books so am alert to the slightest foreshadowing: the white dress mentioned above, the catwalk (certain someone will plunge to death from there), good friend gets Mae the job but plays a very expensive, mean practical joke on her first day.

Here is the description of what I would view as hell in the office (and this is supposed to be the innocent or good part of the story):

Mae opened the intra-company store and began. She was determined to get through all the Inner and Outer feeds that night. There were company-wide noticed about each day’s menus, each day’s weather, each day’s word of the wise — last week’s aphorisms were from MLK, Ghandhi, Salk, Mother Theresa and Steve Jobs. There were notices about each day’s campus visits: a pet adoption agency, a state senator, a Congressman from Tennessee, the director of Médicines Sans Frontières. Mae found out, with a sting of remorse, that she’d missed, that very morning, a visit from Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Prize. She plowed through the messages, every one, looking for anything she would have reasonably been expected to answer personally. There were surveys, at least fifty of them, gauging the Circlers’ opinions on various company policies, on optimal dates for upcoming gatherings, interest groups, celebrations and holiday breaks. There were dozens of clubs soliciting members and notifying all of meeting: there were cat-owner groups — at least ten — a few rabbit groups, six reptile groups, four of them adamantly snake-exclusive. Most of all, there were groups for dog-owners. She counted twenty-two, but was sure that wasn’t all of them. One of the groups dedicated to the owners of very small dogs, Lucky Lapdogs, wanted to know how many people would join a weekend club for walks and hikes and support; Mae ignored tis one. Then, realizing that ignoring it would only prompt a second, more urgent, message, she typed a message, explaining that she didn’t have a dog. She was asked to sign a petition for more vegan options at lunch; she did. There were nine messages from various  work-groups within the company, asking her to join their subCircles for more specific updates and information sharing. For now she joined the ones dedicate to crochet, soccer, and Hitchcock.

There seemed to e a hundred parents’ groups — first-time parents, divorced parents, parents of autistic children, parents of Guatemalan adopters, Ethiopian adopters, Russian adoptees. There were seven improve comedy groups, nine swim team — there had been an inter-staff meet last Wednesday, hundreds of swimmers participating, and a hundred messages were about the contest, who won, some glitch with the results, and how a mediator would be on campus to settle any lingering questions or grievances. There were visits, ten a day at least, from companies presenting innovative new products to the Circle. New fuel-efficient cars. New fair-trade sneakers. New locally sourced tennis rackets. There were meetings of every conceivable department — R&D, search, social, outreach, professional networking, philanthropic, ad sales, and with a plummeting of her stomach, Mae saw she’d missed a meeting, deemed “pretty much mandatory” for all newbies. That had been last Thursday. Why hadn’t anyone told her? Well, stupid, she answered herself. They did tell you. Right here.

“Shit,” she said.

By ten p.m., she’s made her way through all the intra-company messages and alerts, and now turned to her own OuterCircle account. She hand’t visited in six days, and found 118 new notices from that day alone. She decided to plow through, newest to oldest. Most recently, one of her friends from college had posted a message about having the stomach flu, and a long thread followed, with friends making suggestions about remedies, some offering sympathy, some posting photos meant to cheer her up. Mae like tow of the photos, like three of the comments, posted her own well wishes, and sent a link to a song, “Puking Sally,” that she’d found. That prompted a new thread, 54 notices, about the song and the band that wrote it. One of the friends on the thread said he know the bassist in the band, and then looped him into the conversation, The bassist, Damien Ghilotti, was in New Zealand, was a studio engineer now, but was happy to know that “Puking Sally” was still resonating with the flu-ridden. His post thrilled all involved, and another 129 notices appeared, everyone thrilled to hear from the actual bassist from the band, and by the end of the thread, Damien Ghilotti was invited to play a wedding if he wanted, or visit Boulder, or Bath, or Gainesville, or St. Charles, Illinois, any time he happened to be passing through, and would have a place to stay and a home-cooked meal. upon the mention of St. Charles, someone asked if anyone from there had heard about Tim Jenkins, who was fighting in Afghanistan; they’d seen some mention of a kid from Illinois being shot to death by an Afghan insurgent posing as a police officer. Sixty messages later the respondents had determined that it was a different Tim Jenkins, this one from Rantoul, Illinois, not St. Charles. There was relief all around, but soon the thread had been overtaken by a multi participant debate about the efficacy of that war, U.S. foreign policy in general, whether or not we won in Vietnam or Grenada or even WWI, and the ability of the Afghans to self-govern, and the opium trade financing the insurgents, and the possibility of legalization of any and all illicit drugs in America and Europe. Someone mentioned the usefulness of marijuana in alleviating glaucoma, and someone else mentioned it was helpful for those with MS, too, and then there was a frenetic exchange between three family members of MS patients, and Mae, feeling some darkness opening its wings within her, signed off. (pp. 102-104)

The part I am not clear on so far is how the heck is any work going to get done under such an onslaught of virtual reality and actual reality with lectures and all the possible activities. Surely Mae’s workload quota does not drop down because she attends a lecture.

Earlier in the book I got the distinct taste of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as a point of reference. All these bright young things with all the toys and privileges that small towns don’t have available to their citizens. Or my favorite analogy, the film Zardoz (starring a mostly speedo clad young Sean Connery), where the rich are up in their bubbles playing and the mere mortals are being raped and preyed on by each other. This twinge became even more certain when Mae describes how thrilling it is to be at the Circle, even while the author describes her no longer having even a 10 second rest between the customer experience screen, the inner and then the third screen full of dumps and zings from the InnerCircle and OuterCircle.

Likewise, everyone at the Circle had been chosen, and thus the gene pool was extraordinary, the brainpower phenomenal. It was a place where everyone endeavored, constantly and passionately, to improve themselves, each other, share their knowledge, disseminate it to the world. (p. 105)

The disseminate to the world is not in the Randian world since she preferred to horde everything for the makers and let the takers die. It is too soon to tell whether things really get disseminated and for how much.

OMG it gets more revolting from there. Maybe there is no “innocent” part, maybe I misunderstood and the author started in with the yuck and creep factor immediately. There’s 491 pages so I guess it is reasonable that by 100 the questionable corporate structure, products, and weirdness with menace should become obvious.

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. (book jacket)

Let’s just say that at this point it definitely goes full on creepy — in a good way from story telling, not a criticism — and the phrase I never ever want to here from anyone in any circumstances, particularly in a work situation, is “hug it out.”

Final paragraph to come. I had to take the book back, but I took photos of the last few pages I want to reference, but have to find them and reread so I can recall what my conclusion was going to be when I finished writing this far.














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