This book, set a little way into the future, tells the story of Mae, a new employee at The Circle. The Circle is a Facebook like social media company writ large. It has many fingers in many pies alongside the sharing idea of social media such as identity, shopping and search.
The story opens with Mae, having tapped her friend Anne for a job, starting as a customer support person. At this early stage, there are inklings of the attitude of the company. Customers rate her on how helpful she’s been and because these metrics are tracked, she’s encouraged to follow up whenever the feedback is less than perfect.
As the story unfolds, she is drawn further into The Circle, having relationships with two other Circlers. She fully subscribes to the philosophy of the company and begins to lose the understanding of people for whom social media is not the be all and end all.
At the midpoint of the book there is a crisis. Mae is caught, on surveillance cameras that The Circle is trying to make ubiquitous, committing a very minor infraction of the law. When grilled by the big boss of the company she fully gives in and becomes a part of The Circle and its ideals. She goes “transparent” which means she carries a camera and records every moment of her waking life.
This transparency mimics the wider Circle as it pushes for more and more information to be put online and made freely available no matter what the cost. Politicians are encouraged to go transparent and those that do not or criticise have mysterious falls.
As those hurt by The Circle’s ideals mount, Mae reaches a point of inflection. She has to decide whether she is going to go along with push or blow the whistle.
The book is written entirely from Mae’s point of view and espouses her ideals. It is through Mae that we are introduced to the point of the book, a cautionary tale of the growing power of social media and online companies in general. There are consequences to the opening of lives and handing over personal information.
It also looks at changes to us as a society that the social media is causing. At several points in the book, Mae is contacted by needy people and chastised for being slow to follow up on requests.
I found the book both thought provoking and a little disturbing. The Circle or something like it is the endgame for many companies such as Google or Facebook. Total information and the ability to extract profit from it. Is there a point coming where we begin to worry about it, especially for the next generation growing up with effectively no privacy.