‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers – ‘ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.’

“The Circle” by Dave Eggers  (2013) – 491 pages

“Secrets are lies. Caring is sharing. Privacy is theft.”


“The Circle” is about an Internet company called the Circle which is like Facebook or Twitter or above all Google that believes everything that happens to people must be known and shared with the rest of the world.

I remember about five years ago reading that thousands of tiny cameras were being installed in all of the strategic locations of downtown Minneapolis to literally capture everything that happens there.  Since then with the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, the photographing eye has become even more all-pervasive.  Sure, this is a great deterrent to crime, since every human act is recorded.  But have we lost something important by losing any privacy we might have had before?

At first, the Circle campus seems an ideal place to work with its magnificent glass building structures, its organic gardens, its tennis courts, its singer-songwriters, and its groups for every interest  imaginable including Portuguese.    But as in so many idylls, things turn sinister quickly.

At the Circle, more and more people volunteer to be filmed 24 hours a day with a video feed to the computers so their films will never be lost.  The only time the volunteers can shut the video cameras off is when they go to the bathroom, so naturally that is where the only meaningful conversations take place.

2013-08-13-Google15The Three Wise Men founded the Circle, and these three young men are treated with reverence by all of the employees.  More than a billion people worldwide have accounts on The Circle’s social network, and they are encouraged to share the details of their daily lives.  Then the members of The Circle network can either approve these sharings with a ‘Smile’ or disapprove with a ‘Frown’.   For the employees, if they don’t join in with this frenetic sharing, they will be ostracized and maybe even lose their jobs.  The employees must keep their own  ‘Smile Percentage’ up at 98% or above, or they will be in trouble with the managers.

The symbol for the Circle is a giant ‘C’, but the visionaries of the company speak of  ‘Closing the Circle’ when everyone, everywhere “will be tracked, cradle to grave, with no possibility of escape”.

This novel by Dave Eggers is a social network dystopia for today, a ‘Brave New World’ or ‘1984’ for our time.  For all its intensity, this is a witty humorous novel.  Some ultra-hip reviewers claim it is out of date by five years , but the privacy issues presented here seem more crucial than ever today.   Although the novel is 491 pages, it is a quick read.  The novel may not be perfect, but it is the best one we have about our Internet lives of today.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Tony, it sounds fascinating. We have all known for a long time that this is the direction we’re moving in, but we ignore all the surveillance because we’re having fun. I have mixed feelings about Dave Eggers: he is a very good writer, but not quite my kind of writer. Yours is the first review that has made me want to read this. There’s something about the tone people use in writing about Eggers, as though he is God! But he himself has a sense of humor, as you say.


    • Hi Kat,
      I was very late to get on the Dave Eggers bandwagon having only discovered him with ‘Hologram for the King’. Only then did I discover his connection with McSweeneys which magazine I had heard a lot about. My sense about Eggers is that he has done a lot for modern literature in the United States without taking himself too seriously. I certainly enjoy the two novels of his I’ve read which strike me as off-hand takes on our modern society. I want to read some of his backlog. So far I see no reason to give him a Frown, so I will give him a Smile.


  2. I’ve been wondering about this one and wasn’t sure if was actually good or if everyone was fawning over Eggers. I like Eggers, don’t get me wrong, he’s a media darling and you just never know. I just might have to give this one a whirl. Looks like I’m #240 in the hold queue at Hennepin County Library. Something to look forward to reading in April 🙂


    • Hi Stefanie,
      I have a suggestion to make regarding libraries in the Twin Cities. I also go to the Hennepin County Library. It gets nearly every new book, even the obscure ones. But as you say there can be huge waiting lists for the popular ones. I actually live in Anoka County near Hennepin County. The Anoka County library gets only the more popular new books. However, nobody reads in Anoka County, especially not fiction. Sometimes I can go into my Anoka branch library, and a book that has a waiting list of 200 in Hennepin will be sitting on the shelf. So for the really popular books, I request them at the Anoka library through their automated request system and get them quickly. I have the best of both worlds when it comes to libraries. So my suggestion is that if you live anywhere near Anoka County, become a member of that library.


      • Thanks for the tip! I live in south Mpls so Anoka is far away for me. The Highland Park library in St Paul is about 15 minutes away but I suspect they have the same issues as Hennepin County. Since I work at a university I am sometimes able to get books that way but not in this case. I don’t really mind waiting though, gives me something to anticipate 🙂


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