Remember reading 1984 in high school? Big Brother is watching you so you must conform to society's standards! The Circle tells the story of the genesis of an internet-age totalitarian society much like the one Orwell created.
I doubt that this one will make the jump to "literature that should be taught, but I might be wrong.
What is The Circle? Imagine that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal, and every other major internet service were mashed up into one giant corporation. This company controls an online identity system that keeps people from participating anonymously or pseudonymously online. This led to complete internet civility (of course!). It also allowed more secure payment systems, even leading some to suggest that all cash be eliminated for Circle-based payments. Employees at the company propose new uses of The Circle to make life more pleasant and secure all the time. The one thing no one seems to do at The Circle is code or actually do computer stuff. Hmmmm.
The story focuses on Mae Holland, a new employee at The Circle. Through a friend who is in The Circle's inner circle, she secures an entry-level customer experience job that allows her to escape a mind-numbing position at a local utility company. The Circle resides on a California campus with all the bells and whistles we expect from an internet company: game rooms, free cafeterias, gardens, sports fields, the works. In addition, their seems to be multiple social events for employees every evening, some of which are mandatory. The campus also boasts beautiful dorms where employees can stay and give up life outside The Circle all together.
May starts out treating her employment like a job. As time goes on, she discovers that she is expected to participate in The Circle's ongoing social media (internal and external) as well as "extracurricular" activities or she will be viewed as "antisocial" and "not part of The Circle." May succeeds, and rises in her department, eventually resulting in 6 or 7 separate screens on her desk for various components of her work. Eventually, events occur that prod May to become "transparent." This means wearing a live web cam at all times so her life while awake becomes an open book. Nothing can be deleted from her video feed (even when she catches her parents having sex).
The leaders are intent on "Closing the Circle" which should make May ask some very critical questions. However, despite the obvious impending loss of freedom (and the reader screaming at her on the page), May seems disinclined to see anything but the rosy picture her supervisors paint. Even when someone brazenly spells it out for her, she fails to see the danger of the situation.
The use of tiles at the company echos parts of 1984. Instead of "Big Brother is Watching," we have "Secrets are Lies" and "Privacy is Theft."
We often look at totalitarian states and wonder how the regular people let this obviously bad government happen. This book tries to explain that, and does a reasonable job. I wish there had been a few more examples of resistance, other than an ex-boyfriend who I found generally unappealing. If anyone else has read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.