I picked up The Circle, one frosty afternoon, entirely by chance. A friend was running late; the November air had an unforgiving bite to it; the bookstore was warm and hosting its annual Christmas sale. (It’s particularly hard to find reasonably priced English books in the small German town I currently inhabit.) And so I found myself with a newly acquired pass-time and a considerable amount of time to pass. Twenty minutes later, I was cocooned in a sudden wariness for the social internet, even as people around me tweeted, selfieed, facebooked, and Instagramed*.
The pervasiveness of the Internet is not something that I actively think about: the fact that Google can pin-point my exact location at any given time if it wants to, has intimate information about my browsing activities, possibly knows more about my online spending habits than me myself; the fact that everyone even vaguely associated with this network of high-speed information transfer has a footprint that is almost completely unerasable; the fact that although I may document my life online only for close friends and family, it exists in a space that is beyond my control. I don’t actively think about this because the Internet is useful and helpful and fast and fun and maybe, sometimes, most of the times, also safe. I don’t think about this because I can choose to disengage from the social-media aspects of it. I can choose to not have an invested life online. I still have a choice. But for how long? Maybe forever, maybe for a little before that.
The way we engage with the Internet is intricately linked with our personalities, and in turn, our personalities adapt and transform depending on how we choose to engage. I’m not going to whine about the online habits of others. But this increasingly connected society that we live in grows and changes with our infinite individualities. So it is something to think about: how our experiences online shape our perceptions offline. And how it only takes a little more than fifty percent of the people to drastically alter the life of everyone. And how, even though we have a say in how all of this works, the companies — with a capital C — do as well.
The Circle is built upon these ideas of choice and democracy and progress. And even then, The Circle is Orwellian. In many ways, it is a prequel to 1984: a possible origin story for Big Brother, if you will. The farther you get in the story the faster the circle closes, trapping you in — a helpless spectator in the middle of complete and total madness. Somewhere after the hundredth page, it loses plausibility, at least for me. But it doesn’t lose its message or its relevance.
Until next time.
P.S. I became very frustrated towards the end of the book. If you do choose to read it, read it for the idea it is advocating not for the characters and/or the story.
*If Shakespeare can invent words so can I.