When does abundant information stop facilitating better lives and start jeopardizing the things worth living for? It’s a highly topical dilemma, and Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle is frighteningly and intentionally real. We’re not talking about those Asimov kind of dystopias with robots and future stuff; this is basically a book about Google taking over the world.
Recent college grad Mae Holland calls in a favor from her best friend, Annie, to get a job at The Circle, an illustrious technology company in California. The Circle provides the world’s largest search engine, but has also expanded into the countless other territories — from consolidating online payments, to tracking health history, to counting all the grains of sand in the Sahara. Their mission is to make known what was once unknown. (Please note: Google’s brand purpose is to “instantly satisfy every curiosity.” Huh.) The Circle’s culture is all-consuming and cultish — the leaders are known as the Three Wise Men, parties are less than optional, and sleeping on campus is totally normal.
Employees are expected to be hyper-connected — they must meet ridiculous guidelines for network interaction (posting photos, sending “smiles” and “frowns,” posting articles and thoughts) and a sign of success within the company is who is surrounded by the most screens. The hunger for knowledge and interaction obsesses the world, until influencers wear cameras that document their every move (and billions of viewers are hooked), voting through The Circle becomes mandatory and public, and going off the grid is impossible except in death.
The Circle is written in third person limited narration, so readers are privy to all of Mae’s internal conflict. She is very flawed and very human, which makes for a compelling yet frustrating read (I often found myself wanting to smack some sense into the little twit). With Mae, we experience al that is good and bad in The Circle. She’s able to provide state of the art medical treatment to her father struggling with MS, but the transparency her act requires allows her family no dignity. She meets a man who will eradicate childhood abduction, but his buy-in to the system means he videotapes their pathetic sexual encounters. Nothing is secret, and no one’s guard can ever be let down.
We see much of the real in Mae’s life — her kind, if preachy, ex-boyfriend, her love for her parents, her friendships, her kayaking in solitude — be replaced with the shallow — digital validation and neediness, opinions stated for the sake of profit, and totalitarianism. Despite these glaring red flags, Mae continues to align herself with The Circle.
Eggers forces us to think about our relationships with technology, lest we choose transparency and omniscience over warmth, homeyness, and personal connection. I wanted to do my part and celebrate humble, homey food with these ultra-simple red potato wedges.
RED POTATO WEDGES
- 1 lb red potatoes, cut into thin wedges
- 3 or 4 green onions, sliced thinly
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- a dash of black pepper
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Combine all ingredients, then spread them out in a thin layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes. Broil for 5 minutes to give your potatoes a nice brown.
Serve a condiment to round out the spice — I served it with warm Carolina barbecue sauce.