“When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public…”
The Circle is 1984 for the millennial generation. It’s set in a futuristic – but realistic – world, where use of social media has grown to the extent that it’s completely entwined with everyone’s personal, professional and offline identity. The novel’s eponymous Silicon Valley tech company, strongly reminiscent of our world’s most famous tech brand, is where new employee Mae Holland arrives at the beginning of the story, excited to start her new job. She’s landed it with the help of her friend Annie, who works within the upper echelons of the Circle.
Mae’s job is to assist with customer enquiries, but it quickly becomes apparent that there’s much more to the job than she initially thought. Constantly pushed to score high approval ratings whilst maintaining active social media accounts and a thriving social life, she’s initially overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in improving her status at the Circle. She has to ask every customer for a good rating, work to boost it if she can, reply to hundreds of e-invites a day, and continually post, share and comment within the social stratosphere. No one is hidden – minus a mysterious gentleman called Kalden who she occasionally comes into contact with. Intense, mysterious and intriguing, she experiences a strong instant sexual chemistry with him – but has no idea who he is, where he works or where he goes when they’re not together.
Meanwhile, a huge development at the company sees the world start to go ‘transparent’ – meaning that politicians, businesspeople and influential figures live stream every second of their day, hiding no aspect of their life – the deals they clinch, the decisions they make, the words that they say. The idea is to hold everyone accountable for their actions – especially the actions that impact upon the general public. The only break that transparent people get is for toilet breaks (audio breaks only) and sleep; the rest of the time, the world is watching their every move, commenting, questioning and judging. What starts off as a well-intentioned idea breeds suspicion of anyone who hasn’t made the decision to broadcast their daily life.
Mae, who by this time is becoming an influential player at the company, goes live herself, throwing every aspect of her job and social life open. But as her stock at the Circle begins to rise, a social media scandal sees her mentor’s start to plummet. The Circle is a dangerous place to be a failure – but Mae can only see its benefits. As the company makes further moves to keep tabs on everyone and bring a whole new meaning to the concept of transparency, Mae is exposed to its sinister roots. Will she bring the Circle to its knees, or is she too far gone to realise that what it’s doing is wrong..?
The Circle is a searing and original satirical commentary on today’s social media-obsessed world. It isn’t without its flaws – I experienced an odd disconnect with it, perhaps due to the fact that I couldn’t quite connect to Mae’s character and the decision that she makes in the end – but it’s an intelligent, well-written and insightful – and hopefully not prophetic. Logging out of Facebook and Twitter now…