The Problem with Solutions: Analyzing the world of 'The Circle' by Dave Eggers

The whole of human nature generally revolves around two things: problems and solutions. A bold statement, sure, but true nonetheless. From personal matters to corporate solutions, and even issues surrounding the world as a whole, everyone wants answers-- and as technological advances continue to emerge at rapid-speed, the thirst for these answers is greater than ever before. In the world of The Circle by Dave Eggers, a multi-billion dollar social media corporation founded by three forward-thinking leaders believes that most, if not all, of these problems the world faces can be solved by one thing: transparency.

For the most part, the plans to solve issues such as street crimes, political corruption, and even kidnappings with an “all seeing eye” seem absolutely plausible. The problem is that implementing these kinds of “solutions” strip individuals of their privacy and freedom. This is seen in not only the crime-stopping proposals, but in all aspects of life at the company. The world of The Circle is filled with good intentions, but in reality most everything about it has a dark side that outweighs those intentions. The obsession with transparency, need for immediate responses, and monopolization of all social media lead to the demise of socialization as we know it. That being said, I personally would never want to work or live within the world of The Circle.

The concept of “transparency” is a key point in the novel, and the main goal of The Circle is to make everything seen: “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN” (pg. 68). Eamon Bailey’s idea is that having access to all of the information in the world is what will make the world a better place. Some specific problems that he wishes to solve by putting live-streaming cameras around people’s necks are political corruption by broadcasting politician's workdays, street crime by putting up SeeChange cameras in all public areas, domestic and child abuse by using SeeChange in homes, and more. If you know you’re being watched at all times, you are inclined to follow the rules and not do anything questionable or wrong. On the surface, this seems like a great idea and a valid solution. But really, this eliminates all sense of privacy, and causes everyone to behave in a way that isn’t true to who they are. Bailey argues that this change in behavior now brings out your “best self”, but I don’t think that your “best self” is what your soul needs all the time. Any private activities or moments of solitary peace are destroyed, and you become questioned if you choose to do things alone. Whenever our leading lady Mae was feeling stressed or overwhelmed, she would go out onto the bay and kayak in order to disconnect from the world that was causing her stress. When Circle coworkers found out that she was kayaking alone, she was seen as selfish and was criticized for not connecting with other kayakers. Even worse is when she illegally borrowed a kayak and was seen by a SeeChange camera, causing her to get into trouble. From that point on she was transparent, and never returned to the bay because those solitary moments that she craved when she escaped to the water would never be possible again. As humans, we need the ability to disconnect. It’s harder for some than others, but the ability to disconnect is a luxury and a comfort in the days of tech. Sometimes you need to do something selfish, or something bad. Without transparency, most of these dirty-little-secrets we have go unnoticed our whole lives and cause no real harm. With transparency and SeeChange, all secrets are out. You become a different person. I’d prefer to be able to have my solitude when I so choose, and I would never be comfortable in The Circle because of that.

Another questionable method of innovation in the world of The Circle is the need for immediate responses. In Customer Experience, Circle employees are encouraged to always follow up on unsatisfactory service reviews until they get solid 100 scores. This may seem like a way to ensure providing the best service possible to customers, but it actually gets rid of helpful criticism and creates a culture of instant gratification. There is no longer room for contemplation, because your answer is required right away. This way of responding removes any deep thought, research, or the simple concept of “giving it time” in regards to making any decision. In addition to the CE surveys, this is also seen with The Circle’s new voting system, Demoxie, in which all users’ accounts are frozen until they vote on their phone. The concept of having an instant statistic on what people think is helpful to the company and to the government, but leaves no room for thought. People will simply choose any option because they want their accounts un-frozen. Additionally, the votes could be skewed because anyone in the world can see what each person voted for. With anonymity gone, people with outsider views would be compelled to vote along with the majority opinion in order to not be singled out or have their real feelings shown. Being so used to timely feedback creates a dangerous culture of instant gratification and neediness. Mae’s clients displayed questionable behaviors when she didn’t “connect” with them soon enough. For example, the man who wanted Mae to read his daughter’s essays immediately and provide feedback became offended and needy when she did not respond right away. Even Annie, a character you wouldn’t expect to have these behaviors, becomes frantic and accusatory when Mae does not respond quickly to her texts. Most concerning of all is when Francis, one of Mae’s love interests, asks her to rate his performance in bed from 0-100-- the same rating method CE uses. This is when Mae gets a slight idea of how skewed their customers’ surveys may be, because even though she was unhappy with his performance, she gives him a 100 score just to make him happy and stop nagging her about it. I personally would not want to live in a world that would so easily overwhelm me with scores and needy individuals begging for my feedback and attention at all times. Even now, it is a struggle for some to respond to texts, emails, calls, Facebook messages-- the list goes on. Again, the ability to disconnect and take your time to contemplate, research, and make informed decisions is something that we take for granted today.

In this world that Eggers paints, The Circle as a corporation seems to be breaking many antitrust laws and acting as a monopoly. To quote the book on page 174: “The Circle had 90 percent of the search market. Eighty-eight percent of the free-mail market, 92 percent of text servicing.” I can see how The Circle argues that having one company take care of all of your needs is cohesive and convenient, but there is a reason why there are laws against monopolies. Having to depend on a single system for everything is not safe when it comes to your personal security and safeguarding your information. One breach in security, and everyone’s information is spread for anyone to use against you. And in this case it includes all of your social medias, your money and bank accounts, every picture you’ve ever taken, and practically your entire identity. If you don’t agree with how The Circle operates, you have no other choices to turn to. You either use their products and services or you shut yourself out in the dark, much like Mercer in the book. He did not like The Circle and their way of business, and because of his insistence on abstaining from social media, he was singled out and practically bullied to the point of suicide. In my life, I see this kind of thing happening with companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Google now owns YouTube, runs most of the advertisements we see on the internet, is seen as the only credible search engine and internet browser, and is practically unescapable. This is frightening, because it makes me wonder if Google or companies like it are becoming The Circle and using our information without our knowledge, stripping us of our anonymity. Although this is the world we live in, it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

The general ideas of problem solving in The Circle come from a place of goodness and wanting to improve humanity and life for humans, but the consequences that come from these take too much away from the human experience. It would seem that a system that virtually eliminates mistakes, misbehaviors, delays in communication, or unsatisfactory service would solve all issues, but in reality it eliminates the ability to improve. Progress and growth comes from learning from your mistakes. A world without mishaps stands completely still. A society overtaken by transparency, instant gratification, and one sole monopolizing company disrupts the way people behave and molds a new, more broken, social system. The world Eggers writes of is shining bright and smiling, but on the inside is menacing and individualistic. I would never want to be stuck, with my personality and privacy stripped away, inside the dystopia that is The Circle.

Eggers, Dave. The Circle. Random House Inc, 2013.