It seems I am not finished binge reading Dystopic literature, but I did take a break from my teen flick review. After receiving a few suggestions via the Guardian’s Book newsletter (an Email I actually look forward to getting each week), I downloaded The Circle, Carbon Diaries 2015, and The Bone Clocks.I started with The Carbon Diaries. Due to the narrating voice, which stuck to the diary format hinted at in the title, this book didn’t really resonate with me. Although the government plan to reduce carbon emissions by limiting personal freedoms was interesting, and the speculation of how society would change, fracture, and reconnect through the “rationing” of carbon, I never really became interested in the characters.
The Circle was a different story.
Within just a few pages, the central character, Mae, is interesting both for her recognizable addiction to validation through social media and through the results in her conflicted personal life. The contrast between her blind faith in the circle and her family and friends, who view the technological development with more resistance, provides conflict as well as the motivation for plot developments. It was fascinating to see how the same situation could be viewed in such starkly contrasting ways and presented through different characters. Even more interesting was that the logical conclusions of “abolishing anonymity creates accountability” is extrapolated to such extremes with incredible ease.
The Circle begins with Mae landing her dream job at a social media company of the same name. Founded as a way to simplify online shopping and increase online security through ending anonymity, the Circle is presented as an ever growing project working on everything from deep sea exploration to human health. Although the projects are diverse and wide ranging, all of the data is summed up in figures and statistics, making bite-sized data packets for easy user consumption. Mae starts in the equivalent of customer support, standing out from fellow recruits through her unusually high response rate and approval rating. Soon she becomes a poster child of the company, using her status to get improved healthcare for her ailing father and to promote the company through wearing a camera the entire time she is awake.
By the time Mae is on stage to receive her camera and telling the world about her awakening, the frightening future of this alternative world is summed up in three alarming statements: Secrets are lies, Sharing is caring, Privacy is theft. Blind to the impact of her decisions on the lives of others, Mae gives up her life to the dictatorship of the masses, failing to confront the question if the masses really wiser than a select few. As the novel continues, all of Mae’s relationships deteriorate to a string of smiles, frowns, forwards, and empty statements. Driven by the instant gratification of likes, high approval ratings and the pressure to be “social” by her workspace, Mae’s over sharing of her own life forces those around her to act for the public as well. The final straw is when the camera captures an intimate moment between her parents. Although she is ashamed, it seems almost completely logical to her that this video cannot be deleted. Ironically, only months before she has a fight with a colleague about a video of herself participating in almost exactly the same activity. At that point she had insisted that the video be deleted, removed permanently. It seems that her brainwashing has succeeded, and the reader is confronted with the question of when the development of technology turned into the uncontrollable beast of technology.
Fundamentally, Mae understands that knowledge is power and believes that everyone has the right to this knowledge at all times. However, she fails to see that it is not she who has the power, because she cannot process everything- no, it is the Circle itself which possesses the knowledge and the directors who finally control them all. Even worse, the reduction of human relationships to a series of smiles or frowns squashes all resistance before it can even start.
The book is far more adult that the other texts I have been reading, not only because of the sexual content, but also because it more clearly addresses the concepts related to technology, identity, security and privacy. Mae is faced with and consistently makes decisions about her own information, life and privacy, without ever considering how this effects the actual other people in her life. In the end, the validation and approval of faceless and unknown individuals is more important to her than real conversations and relationships.