The Circle by Dave Eggers is a marvelous book that provides a touchstone, updated for the modern world, to the concerns of Brave New World, and 1984, but with one very important difference that turns it all on its head. It is not a totalitarian government that seeks to rule over all aspects of life, but rather an ideal of complete openness and universal lack of privacy within complete, untrammeled democracy turned lose on our own daily lives.
Eggers creates sincere, believable characters who pursue their visions with a conflicted purity of purpose. They consider their devil's advocate questions: is there a place for secrecy, doesn't everyone benefit from our "help," but in the light of their rabid idealism they know they will avoid all possibility of bad things happening. After all, they're the good guys changing the world for everyone's benefit.
The writing evokes a strong sense of the dream of social progress akin to the very development of our "Internet Society" as it has pervaded modern life, that everything is getting better now that we are connected. This gives the book a fresh and relevant feeling that those older stories have lost in their clinical nausea or Stalin-esque dread. A counterpoint in the story is offered by the curmudgeonly, and luddite-inclined, who just want to be left alone, private, anonymous.
An occasional straw man appears, with an ironic-tongue in skeptical-cheek, as if to remind us of what we already know about diversity of thought and the importance of isolation for creativity and for carving out a self-determined life that might be different from a socially approved one--no matter how enlightened that social vision might think itself.
To imagine the Circle, think of Google-Apple-Yahoo-Microsoft and a hundred high-tech and lifestyle visions all rolled together into one amazing on-line panacea-entity. For those who work there the CIrcle combines work, social life, opportunity, friendship, and validation in a matrix of measurable satisfaction and reward. For users of the Circle, they are not just given their Warholian-moment of fame but constant connection to the celebrities of their world, in an Uber-Twitter manner.
The protagonist, Mae, arrives as an entry level worker taking a customer service-like position. As she gains experience and relates to the matrix of connections in the Circle she achieves significant celebrity in her own right and enthusiastically embraces the vision of universal openness, volunteering to make her own life a 24/7/365 example of on line presence. We see the effect this has on those around her and the reader is left to wonder whether she will see and whether she will choose at the cusp of this new system to unleash a tyranny of democracy or see the wisdom of the opt-out.
Maybe, just maybe, we might want to consider those same questions.