What’s it about.com?
As the hip founder of McSweeney’s, Eggers is LinkedIn to everyone who’s anyone, but he claims that he’s never been to the Googleplex outside San Francisco. Until he posts his complete My Location history, I’m skeptical because it’s awfully easy to recognize the setting of “The Circle”: the sprawling campus of an omnivorous Silicon Valley search company where 10,000 of the brightest young people in the world glide around the glass headquarters, enjoying free gourmet food and Pilates classes. “Outside the walls of the Circle, all was noise and struggle, failure and filth,” Eggers writes. “But here, all had been perfected.”
The novel has a lot of fun with this breathless tour — imagine a Pinterest board maintained by Walt Disney and Kim Jong Il. “The Circle” is working in an old tradition of warnings about schemes to deify mortals, stories that go back to the serpent who promised to help us know everything. But like Gary Shteyngart in “Super Sad True Love Story,” Eggers strains to stay one Instagram ahead of the real-life absurdities made possible by the new fortunes of social media. After all, it was only two weeks ago that the cover of Time magazine asked, “Can Google Solve Death?” Next to that ambition, driverless cars and reliable restaurant reviews don’t seem so far-fetched.
The Circle is directed by the three Wise Men, which is just the first example of the corporation’s cutesy messianic lingo. One member of this triumvirate is Ty, a socially awkward visionary who wears an enormous hoodie. (Tell your lawyers to stand down, Mark. It says right here that “any resemblance to actual persons is entirely coincidental.”) A few years before the story opens, Ty and his two more seasoned partners devised TruYou, a transformative new way to interact with the Web and the world: “Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal.” Their goal is nothing less than creating a world in which “uncertainty is eliminated.”
Our wide-eyed Candide through this technological wonderland is a new employee named Mae Holland, who starts at the bottom of the Circle in Customer Experience. “Oh my God,” she says on her first day. “It’s heaven.” (Dramatic irony +1.) As the weeks pass, Eggers buries poor Mae beneath an ever-expanding range of technological distractions: On two, three, four, finally nine different monitors, she must answer customers’ questions while monitoring their satisfaction on a 100-point scale, fill out online surveys, rate people’s photos, respond to preference choices piped into her earpiece, “zing” out newsy tidbits about her activities, swap messages with “friends,” and send “smiles” or “frowns” to help various social causes.