Book review: David Eggers ~ The Circle

Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, has warned that Britain could be sleepwalking into an East German-style surveillance society, holding extensive but secret files on all citizens.”*

The capabilities of technological surveillance in 2004 were negligible in relation to 2017. The chilling ubiquitous presence of the Californian tech giants- Amazon, Facebook and Google- is worrying. The quote above was identified in a few seconds from a Google search for example. I knew the quote but didn’t know when or where the quote appeared. As a young researcher decades ago sourcing that quote would have needed a very good card index or a willingness to burrow in the archives. And this brings us to the essence of Eggers novel.

Technological creep is always presented as a benefit. In The Circle they wish to prevent illness by constant monitoring through the wearing of wristbands- sound familiar? Obviously they wish to prevent car crashes- who doesn’t?- and so self-drive cars become mandatory. Democracy would be improved if everyone voted and so acceptance of the Circle’s technology promotes easy-access democracy. The Circle then has complete knowledge of every aspect of your professional and social life, which it can then monetise. The Circle can also create ‘fake’ biographies of those that it dislikes- independent researchers for example- to ruin (or even criminalise!) their life.

Eggers novel is an extrapolation of current technological capabilities and fails to excite. He hasn’t developed a new storyline. Only the final few pages lift the intellectual pace, which is a meagre reward for nearly 500 pages of reading. As a result it compares badly with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which really did create a new society. This is a missed opportunity.

* 16th August 2004

Why you should buy this novel: It’s a workmanlike, techy novel with some nice touches.

Why you shouldn’t buy this novel: It lacks intellectual ambition.

A cheap copy from ABEBooks


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