Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Books Social Networks Book Reviews

Book Review: The Circle 85

Posted by Soulskill
from the satisfyingly-rounder-than-the-square dept.
Nick Kolakowski writes "Here are the lessons imparted by Dave Eggers' The Circle, his new novel about the rise of a fictional technology company clearly modeled on Google or Facebook: 1) Sharing content with people online is a poor substitute for having real-life experiences with, like, kayaking and family gatherings and drinking and stuff. 2) Unless stopped, companies that build social-networking tools will create increasingly intrusive software. 3) The only sure way to stay sane in our increasingly interconnected (Eggers would say over-connected) world is to drive at high speed off a bridge." Read below for the rest of Nick's review.
The Circle
author Dave Eggers
pages 504
publisher Knopf
rating 8/10
reviewer Nick Kolakowski
ISBN 0385351399 (ISBN-10); 978-0385351393 (ISBN-13)
summary Sharing content with people online is a poor substitute for having real-life experiences

The book's eponymous tech firm earns untold billions of dollars off the Unified Operating System, a portal through which virtually the entire world accesses the broader Web. The OS bans anonymous identities; all social information is posted out there for anyone to peruse; currencies such as Bitcoin have been discarded in favor of online banking accounts irrevocably linked to real identities. The Circle itself is headquartered in the Bay Area, on a playful campus that caters to its employees’ every material whim, so long as they're willing to work twenty-plus hours a day.

That the world would accept something like the Circle’s omnipresent software without debate, of course, is the most far-fetched of the book’s assumptions. But Eggers needs that exaggerated scenario to support his larger theme of how we’re slowly but surely letting our privacy slip away from us in exchange for digital baubles, and how online interactions—clicking "Likes," viewing posts—is an imperfect substitution for real life. As one of his characters (who acts as the doomed Voice of Reason) states early on:

“Judgments like ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ and ‘smiles’ and ‘frowns’ were limited to junior high. Someone would write a note and it would say, ‘Do you like unicorns and stickers?’ and you’d say, ‘Yeah, I like unicorns and stickers! Smile!’ That kind of thing. But now it’s not just junior high kids who do it, it’s everyone, and it seems to me sometimes that I’ve entered some inverted zone, some mirror world where the dorkiest shit in the world is completely dominant. The world has dorkified itself.”

The Circle’s employees, of course, have little problem with that world (until the end, of course, when another major character attempts to bring the whole system crashing down). Even if Eggers gets the technology wrong, in order to service his broader point, he perfectly nails the spirit of hubris and incessant self-congratulation that’s gripped many startups and tech behemoths in this era of easy VC money, huge app audiences, and massive acquisitions. That bit of software that makes all the world’s information easily accessible, he’s whispering in the background, is totally missing the point of what constitutes a real, lived-in existence.

In other words, The Circle isn’t much of a cautionary tale for the broader world, as no single commercial firm will ever (hopefully) eradicate our privacy to the degree that the company and its characters accomplish in the novel (although it’s clear that some tech giants will do their level best). But on another level, the text can still act as a cautionary tale to the current generation of developers and entrepreneurs” who think their software will effortlessly change the world for the better.

You can purchase The Circle from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) — to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Book Review: The Circle

Comments Filter:
  • by Qzukk (229616) on Friday October 11, 2013 @01:36PM (#45103743) Journal

    only sure way to stay sane our increasingly interconnected

    If I have to read that again, I'm heading for the closest bridge at high speed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If the bridge is sufficiently high, it doesn't really matter what speed you drive off of it.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday October 11, 2013 @01:41PM (#45103799)

    "1) Sharing content with people online is a poor substitute for having real-life experiences with, like, kayaking and family gatherings and drinking and stuff."

    True, but I consider it to be like pornography: It may be a poor substitute for the real thing but it's there if you need it.

    And for those who live in the country, social networking is an IMPROVEMENT over the old isolation.

    "2) Unless stopped, companies that build social-networking tools will create increasingly intrusive software."

    Duh.

    "3) The only sure way to stay sane our increasingly interconnected (Eggers would say over-connected) world is to drive at high speed off a bridge."

    Bullshit.

    Sure, there are negative elements in the above. But see (1) for example. Yes, there are addicts who exclude the real world for electronic "social" life. But for a great many people, it is a vast improvement over earlier times. It all depends on how you use it. I use it for specific reasons and for specific purposes (and yes, this is one of them, for reasons of my own).

    As for #2, it's what people like me have been saying for years. Does Dave Eggers think this is some kind of revelation or something?

    And #3 is just nonsense. Unless you are the kind of person who has no control over her own decisions.

    • "1) Sharing content with people online is a poor substitute for having real-life experiences with, like, kayaking and family gatherings and drinking and stuff."

      Is this sponsored content from the booze industry?

      The booze industry puts massive efforts into making booze "cool". "Alcohol marketing can shape culture by creating and sustaining expectations and norms about how to achieve social, sporting or sexual success". It's not just commercials. There are discounts for areas near prestigious schools. [harvard.edu]

      • I think the idea was to point out that drinking is a direct social engagement, rather than an indirect one like everything you do online; I doubt "teh booze industry" would bother with subliminal ads on a marginal website, when blatant advertising on major media networks is so damn effective.

        Now go grab me a sixxer of Silver Bullets so I can have a bunch of models come and hang off my junk like they do in the commercials. That happens, right?

    • by s.petry (762400)

      I agree with your point, but not completely. I read something the other day which I thought was a good perspective. The question is posed by many people in many ways, and I honestly never stopped to think about the question in depth. The question without further babbling preamble is: Why have we recently thrown away thousands of years of evolution?

      How many of us today could survive for any length of time in the event of a catastrophe? Most people will probably "claim" to be able to, but lets look at ev

      • We've never been able to survive on our own in the advent of a catastrophe. If you were a subsistence farmer in Europe, and there was an extended drought your crops failed and you died. Extended winter? Your stores failed and you died. Had slightly impacted wisdom teeth? You got a massive dental infection and you died. A foreigner accidentally tracks a new species of weed onto your farm that's poisonous? You either have to kill it off aggressively, or experimentally eat it - and well, you died.

        This is rugge

        • by s.petry (762400)

          Given that a small community of 20-30 people was not that uncommon 150 years ago in the US, you are wrong to claim that we never could. There are numerous small tribes in Africa today which are self sufficient and require no magic technology to aide them in "living". Where they have problems in Africa today, many of these are caused by corporate intervention and ownership.

          I make no claim that their lifestyle is better or worse than ours, but rather pointing out that they can and could survive in low popul

          • "There are numerous small tribes in Africa today which are self sufficient and require no magic technology to aide them in "living". Where they have problems in Africa today, many of these are caused by corporate intervention and ownership."

            Except for one thing: your "communities" of 20-30 people are not entirely self-sufficient. Although such a community might otherwise be self-sufficient, reinforcement of recessive genes would cause them to die out. It takes a population of about 200 humans or more to maintain a viable gene pool. That's why such small tribes that have existed for any length of time ALL have a tradition of marrying outside the tribe or community.

            Which again gets back to part of my point: even though keeping in touch with o

            • by s.petry (762400)
              Yes, you are correct that there must be breeding with other small tribes. No, this does not take away their ability to survive without outside intervention. While I agree with the technicality of your point, it does not in any way change mine.
              • "Yes, you are correct that there must be breeding with other small tribes. No, this does not take away their ability to survive without outside intervention."

                I did not make the latter claim. My only point was that they are not entirely self-sufficient and do require contact outside the group.

        • So by not using FB were going to die?
          The Surgeon General may disagree with you [foxnews.com]
      • "While I agree with your premise, I happen to also agree with the author. If the technology puts us on a pivot where we either massively die or have easy access to entertainment, it will swing to the one that make a couple people the most money."

        A big part of MY point was that it isn't "technology" doing that, it's you.

        If you decide to be dependent on that technology, that's your problem. Don't blame it on the technology. Technology isn't "putting us on a pivot", people are. And they have a choice.

        • by s.petry (762400)

          First and foremost, I'm using "we" and "our" in very loose terms to discuss the implications to society as a whole, not my own personal experience. I do actually have military trained survival skills, but the _majority_ of US citizens do not. I'm sure that other people have equivalent skills to mine, and probably better from various teachings. That is not the majority of society though, those numbers are rather small. That said, the skills I have are not enough to smith a pot. I could survive, I could

          • "First and foremost, I'm using "we" and "our" in very loose terms to discuss the implications to society as a whole, not my own personal experience."

            Well, I also thought it was pretty clear that I meant "you" in a generic, non-personal sense.

            "Your claim is like setting a bunch of booze around a bunch of teenagers, telling them over and over again how great it will make them, then claiming it's their own stupid fault after they get drunk and sick."

            Bullshit. I've been standing around telling people what a bad idea some of this technology is. Now who's getting personal?

            "Media and advertising, like it or not, play a massive role in our lives."

            They do NOT play a massive role in my life. They really don't. If they play a massive role in yours (this time meant personally), then that's a choice you have made. I have made a different choice. My favorite piece of music is 300 years old, and I only pay attention to the advertising that I cho

            • by s.petry (762400)

              Bullshit. I've been standing around telling people what a bad idea some of this technology is. Now who's getting personal?

              Wait, you have a TV Show during prime time? Radio show? Yes, I am being a smart ass because you either completely miss the concept of advertising and how we are forced to listen to it, or choose to ignore a presented reality. I don't care how many people "you" sit and talk to about the dangers of technology unless you can hit the volume that every TV News caster does when they state "Follow us on Twitter" or "Follow us on Facebook".

              They do NOT play a massive role in my life. They really don't. If they play a massive role in yours (this time meant personally), then that's a choice you have made. I have made a different choice. My favorite piece of music is 300 years old, and I only pay attention to the advertising that I choose.

              Again with the me and you thing? Really, I opened showing the perspectiv

              • "Wait, you have a TV Show during prime time? Radio show? Yes, I am being a smart ass because you either completely miss the concept of advertising and how we are forced to listen to it, or choose to ignore a presented reality. I don't care how many people "you" sit and talk to about the dangers of technology unless you can hit the volume that every TV News caster does when they state "Follow us on Twitter" or "Follow us on Facebook"."

                Are you incapable of having a discussion without making offensive personal comments? It is starting to seem so. I have tried to keep my end of the discussion to generalizations about people, rather than being insulting.

                "Again with the me and you thing? Really, I opened showing the perspective I was looking at. Your Well, I also thought it was pretty clear that I meant "you" in a generic, non-personal sense seems a bit wishy washy, or is it only you that is allowed to make generalizations?"

                No, I am DISAGREEING with you. You wrote "we". I, in effect, was saying "You, maybe, but leave me out of it." I DISAGREE that it affects US the same. If you mean something generically, why don't you use the word "people", or "most people" or some such, rather than "we", "us", and "you"?

                In

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday October 11, 2013 @01:50PM (#45103857) Homepage

    "In other words, The Circle isnâ(TM)t much of a cautionary tale for the broader world"

    No, the review makes it sound more like a tale deliberately written not so much as a cautionary one as a semi-political screed designed mostly to vent their authors opinions while appealing to certain tinfoil hat crowd.

  • 90% of the parties I attend have been set up by someone on Facebook. If it wasn't for Facebook, I'd miss nine out of ten parties my friends were throwing. (As opposed to the half I miss now due to conflicting obligations or not feeling like going.)

    While the dire warnings in the book have some merit, we should also recognize that there are legitimate tools and uses in our social media and not discount it wholesale. (I always call Facebook the junk food of the Internet. Even junk food can have a few fortified vitamins tossed in there.)
    • Because aside from Facebook, there is no other way to be notified of upcoming parties, right?

      • Because aside from Facebook, there is no other way to be notified of upcoming parties, right?

        You can choose not to use Facebook if you'd like, but you can't force your entire social circle to switch back to Cc:ing everyone e-mail invitations. With younger generations, it may be that they've never used e-mail for that purpose to begin with. Facebook and SMS are pretty much the only means one can hear what is going on.

        I've taken steps to delete my Facebook account, but when I asked friends to keep in touch with me through e-mail instead, they didn't really understand my choice and they clearly consider such a request a hassle. (Yeah, yeah, cue standard Slashdot misanthrope response about how no one needs friends that refuse to use platform X anyway).

        • That's the situation I faced when I disabled my Facebook account. Unless someone sent me a text message or alerted me to the thing happening (or I got an old fashioned snail mail invitation as happens with formal events like weddings or baby showers), I wouldn't find out about it until after it was over and got the inevitable, "Oh man, we had a great time, you should have been there!"
        • I'm in my twenties, never used facebook or myspace, I stay in touch via phone calls or text. That being said I have less interest than most in staying in touch, others may find a social website necessary.

          With younger generations, it may be that they've never used e-mail for that purpose to begin with.

          I haven't. Never even thought about it, I'd rather use my cell phone.

        • You can choose not to use Facebook if you'd like, but you can't force your entire social circle to switch back to Cc:ing everyone e-mail invitations.

          Is this a fucking joke? People had parties before the internet, you know. A couple of phone calls and a run out for snacks is all that it takes. I'd argue that texting and Facebook make the process a lot more complicated than it needs to be, or should be.

    • 90% of the parties I attend have been set up by someone on Facebook. If it wasn't for Facebook, I'd miss nine out of ten parties my friends were throwing. (As opposed to the half I miss now due to conflicting obligations or not feeling like going.)

      While the dire warnings in the book have some merit, we should also recognize that there are legitimate tools and uses in our social media and not discount it wholesale. (I always call Facebook the junk food of the Internet. Even junk food can have a few fortified vitamins tossed in there.)

      Uh-huh.

      You know how we used to organize parties before facebook? We'd turn to our buddies (who were all in the same room together) and say, "Hey, we should get some booze and have a party!" At most, somebody would run down to the nearest Kinko's, print out a handful of flyers, and go canvas the local college campuses. In other words, it was easy to get one going because you were already directly engaged with your peers, not sitting behind a computer screen, alone, waiting for an IM.

      The irony of a decidedly

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I hate Facebook. Hate it passionately, almost violently in fact. You literally could not pay me enough to use it.

        That said, if you think using Facebook means "sitting behind a computer screen, alone, waiting for an IM", then - you know what? There's no point in even completing that thought, because you don't actually think that's what it means. You just made that up because you find it easier to knock down strawmen than honestly argue on the facts. You lied, in short.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't need a bridge to drive into - I just avoid all this stuff and I'm perfectly happy. No pop culture, no DRM or walled gardens, no social media. I don't think life is any the worse for ignoring all that.

  • lessons? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stenvar (2789879)

    You can't learn "lessons" from a fictional story because it doesn't actually reflect reality; it reflects the fears and opinions of its author.

    If you read a book written by a Luddite, you can't "learn the lesson that technology is bad", you simply acquire his prejudices and fears.

  • "That the world would accept something like the Circle’s omnipresent software without debate, of course, is the most far-fetched of the book’s assumptions."

    What?!? The world already has accepted something like the Circle. Those of us that don't use FB are very few and far between and get harangued as Luddites for not using it. To most of the twenty-somethings and younger, FB IS THE INTERNET.

  • Fuck Facebook, fuck Google, fuck all "social media", it's all bullshit and is ultimately used to invade your privacy; delete it all. People who claim to be your "friends" who won't be bothered to use other means to contact you weren't really your friends in the first place, so fuck them, too. Real friends will call you on the phone or at least send you an email.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27

Working...