Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best of 2013: Fiction and Social Media

One of the many items enjoyed by Burbank Public Library staff during 2013, recommended for your consideration:

The Circle, by Dave Eggers
Mae Holland is thrilled when she’s offered a position at the Circle, a technological mega-corporation bent on monetizing the personal data of its users. She starts off in Consumer Experience, with seven screens on her desk so that she can constantly monitor and respond to the thoughts and activities of thousands of “Circlers,” while also purposely influencing their purchases and political views. In an effort to create a new society focused on accountability and transparency, her supervisors give her a miniature camera to wear during her waking hours, broadcasting her every move to an ever-growing cadre of followers. But, as her popularity and influence grow, Mae finds herself calibrating her personal habits and routines to best reflect the company creed, “SECRETS ARE LIES.” Meanwhile, her friends and family begin to feel the pressure of the limelight, and start deserting her. Constantly watched by millions of followers, Mae longs for private face-to-face contact with her loved ones.

Eggers uses The Circle to skillfully examine the way in which social media, while purporting to draw people closer together, can actually function as a filter between us. Instead of engaging in a face-to-face conversation, many people limit their social interactions to clicking a “Like” button or posting photos. Others tweet a moment-by-moment account of their every activity. The Circle shows how isolating this behavior can become, when taken to the extreme. Eggers also touches on the topics of big business homogenizing our lives, and on government corruption. 

I was blown away by Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but have been disappointed (and depressed) by some of his most recent full-length works. The Circle reminded me of the depth and realism he can bring to his characters. Mae’s journey is absolutely engrossing, and I found myself both exhilarated by her successes and frustrated by her losses. The morals about some of the drawbacks of social media and the realities of data mining did not feel heavy handed, but became organic pieces of the story.

Jennifer D., Literacy Librarian

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