Monday, July 21, 2014

The Circle

I suspect Dave Eggers does not like the internet, and after reading The Circle, I'm reassessing my online habits to ensure I'm not under the spell of a cyber Pied Piper. While this novel isn't quite successful as a novel, it will provoke some thoughts on privacy in the digital age, the power we've ceded to giant tech companies, and the danger of embracing new technologies without scrutiny or limits.

Major new technologies have always been disruptive. If I could time travel into the past to stop an invention before it got out of control, I would bring photos of clogged freeways to 1908 and try to persuade Henry Ford to rethink his Model T. Other denizens of the 21st century might prefer to slow or stop the Industrial Revolution; some yearn for a pre-agricultural existence. It is impossible to know for certain which aspects of the Information Age our descendants in the next century will wish had never happened. Mr. Eggers is not alone in finding the ubiquity of social media obnoxious, but it could be a passing fad and its most significant legacy our collective and voluntarily surrendered privacy.

Of course, thanks to the internet, many summaries and reviews of this novel are easily accessible, so I'll forego a rehashing of the plot, which is thin. More attention is given to the theme of seductive-and-ever-encroaching-cyberstate than to character development or plotting. The internet-bashing theme is not subtle or nuanced, and that could be off-putting to readers who prefer novels that don't bludgeon them with a message.

Despite its length, this was an easy weekend read and I was engaged with the story, mostly because I was expecting something exciting to happen just ahead. In that, I was disappointed. Still, I don't regret reading it. A little examination of our personal and cultural relationships with digital technology couldn't hurt.

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