Fact or Science Fiction – Technology in The Circle

“TruYou—one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person. There were no more passwords, no multiple identities. Your devices knew who you were, and your one identity—the TruYou” (Eggers, 21).

A large portion of the reason I found Dave Eggers’ The Circle to be a successful and captivating novel is in how closely it sticks towards a realistic course of events. While the events in the story are almost certainly impossible and clearly an exaggeration, the appeal, and eeriness of The Circle lies in its realism. Despite it being a wildly radical narrative, The Circle captivates our attention so successfully because it plays off of current technological trends, creating a thought provoking, impossible yet logical “alternate ending” to the current course technology and media are taking.

When reading The Circle one moment that struck me as particularly intriguing and frightening came very early in the novel. When explaining the initial creation and key concepts of The Circle, Eggers depicts a pretty alarming concept, especially for today’s social media–driven youth: the TruYou. This concept of a single, united online persona is a perfect illustration of, in my opinion, the novel’s greatest attribute, realism. Eggers creates this exaggerated, and seemingly unrealistic concept of a single online identity. However, young people today know this is not very far from the truth. When signing up for this blog, or any other online account service, we are prompted more and more frequently to “Join with Facebook” or “Join with Google”, accounts that most of us almost certainly already have. It is not uncommon for social media and other online applications to collaborate. A defining moment for the success of the photography app Instagram was when it became automatically linked and posted with both Facebook and Twitter (this has since been reversed). Venmo, an app designed for small money transfers, and therefore ideal for college students, does not suggest but requires links to both Facebook and the user’s bank account or debit card. It is apparent that the online world we exist in today, and that of the dystopian setting The Circle occupies, are very far from different, they are eerily similar.

The concept of connected online accounts is not inherently a frightening one; it is more convenient than anything else. However, this allows Eggers to further push the narrative into an area that is uncomfortable for readers. The introduction of already familiar technologies increases the bite of Eggers’ narrative. When politicians begin to speak against The Circle, they are quickly wrapped up and quieted, their own online history working against them, gathered in the web data that The Circle collects. This is a wildly frightening idea for young readers, especially now, when possession of personal data online is a legal grey area. During both the college and job application periods, young people today attempt to cover up incriminating evidence of themselves on social media. This evidence covers a wide range, from indication of illegal activity, to frowned-upon behavior such as social drinking, and even includes the recent widespread leak of celebrity nude pictures. Eggers provides a more intense model of a topic that troubles many people today. The modern panopticon—technology to capture our every online action—certainly exists now, and what troubles us is whether or not another person is, or ever will be watching.

Through this exaggerated realism, a hyperbolic example of the technological prowess we already possess, Eggers is able push his narrative in a way that provokes reader thought and forces the audience to reconsider whether or not unrestrained technological growth is really something that we should encourage.

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2 Responses to Fact or Science Fiction – Technology in The Circle

  1. I absolutely agree that the most worrying part about this book is how plausible attempting some of the various technologies within it are. I have at a number of times throughout this book found myself extremely uncomfortable because of how much I struggled to find arguments against the rhetoric being sent to me as a reader.

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  2. Steph Roman says:

    I’m pretty convinced that the Circle, in certain ways, is only a slight exaggeration of our current era, hardly hyperbolic at all. You can easily push on this topic–what does this say about society? Is Eggers’ dramatization a likelihood? Is this future avoidable, or completely impossible? You say it’s impossible but I’d like to see a bit more on why. You don’t have to answer, but it’s something to think about! 🙂

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