The first book to blow my mind that wasn’t a Choose Your Own Adventure was George Orwell’s 1984. I was 14 and I tore through that book as quickly as I could. In plain spoken English the novel explained a nightmarish scenario which we were already living. A world where we were at a perpetual war (in my childhood it was against the communists, in my adulthood the Muslims, or terrorists if you prefer). A society where you were always being watched and any nonconformity was to be punished. Orwell took the totalitarianism to cartoonish lengths, but it wasn’t hard to find parallels between his story and the life we lived.
Dave Egger’s new book The Circle gave me a similar thrilling dread. But the nightmarish world he paints is a lot closer to realty than anything Orwell described. In close to 500 fast paced pages he introduces us to Mae who just got hired at The Circle, a Facebookesque internet company. At first her job seems awesome. Everyone is really nice and concerned about her well being, they have plenty of perks like chefs cooking for them and famous musicians singing in the courtyards. But slowly and then suddenly her job becomes all encompassing. They want to know why she isn’t attending “optional” get-togethers and even worse why she spent an entire weekend off-line. It seems obvious the company she works for is a cult to everyone, but her. She buys into it completely to the point where she agrees to have cameras recording every moment of her life for viewers to watch on their smartphones.
The book’s final portion edges toward the ridiculous, but before it veers out of control, it touches all the scary things our technological bonanza has unleashed on society from the narcissism inherent in selfies, the voyeurism of reality television and viewing strangers Facebook pages, to the greed of corporations for personal information. If nothing else the book for at least one night will have you turn your cell phone off.