80 pages in and it would appear that Eggers has his readers staring down the pike of a dystopic near-future characterized by a culture of pervasive techno surveillance. The Circle seems keen on forecasting our world’s evolving ideas of watching and viewing, and our growing collective comfort with the corporations responsible for this seismic shift in perspective. The Circle corporation is painted in the image of today’s Facebook or Google; a progressive work environment filled with lavish amounts of tech and glass walls, built around products and ideals that sound as forward-looking and moralistic as they do troubling and surreptitious.
The act of seeing is something Eggers’ is beginning to explore via the SeeChange product, a tiny streaming camera that can be easily hidden anywhere, and the charismatic CEO Eamon Bailey’s mantra “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.” Bailey foresees the company’s new product as moving society towards an “all knowing, all-seeing” reality. The Circle corp names sections of their campus after periods of progress (e.g., the Renaissance, the Enlightenment), and views themselves as surfing the front of history’s epistemological wave.
The concept of visual surrogates, those who would live stream events to others unable to attend, strikes me as both unsettling and sad. Alternately, the idea that police, or anyone, should behave in accordance with a reality that they are in an environment of perpetual, potential surveillance by a world of online eyeballs, is both fascinating and problematic. It’s not so different from our current reality; certainly cell phone footage of people behaving illegally in the last two years has been responsible for great forward leaps in holding cops and others accountable for their bad actions.
The Circle appears to be locked on a crash course with a zero-privacy world in which we’ve allowed a FOMO-amphetamine paradigm to increasingly dehumanize us. The sweet character of Mae’s doting father who suffers from MS embodies this point of no return. As he rests in the car at a restaurant's parking lot, staring up at the ‘interlocking boughs of an unremarkable tree,’ he rolls down the lens of his front seat window and remarks “Well, this has been wonderful.” It would seem this is not merely a comment about family brunch, but of the essence of vision, of the shawdoy and tangled structures of systemic power, and of the challenges in decoding a rapidly changing reality. A vestige of techno-innocence sits squarely in our rear view mirror as we plunge over the falls.