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Dave Eggers’ excellent ‘The Circle’ hits uncomfortably close to reality

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Four stars

The Circle By Dave Eggers, $28.

Imagine that Facebook took over. I mean, in a sense, Facebook already has taken over. But imagine the company’s influence grew for another decade—more users, more applications, more devices. If you want to buy something online, you do it through Facebook. If you want to chat with your mom, you do it through Facebook. A truly universal operating system. Now imagine that Facebook is called “the Circle” and you’re set up to read Dave Eggers’ terrifying new book.

Eggers begins with a 100-page description of the beautiful Circle “campus.” Multiple cafeterias serving locally grown, organic lunches. Famous musicians stopping by for informal afternoon concerts. Goofy sporting events, nightly parties, unreleased technologies and massive aquariums filled with rare fish—all at the fingertips of the Circle’s newest employee, Mae Holland.

Everything seems too good to be true. Which, of course, it is. Little by little, Mae is forced to give up more and more privacy in exchange for this job, this “campus,” this lifestyle. She has to “Zing” about all her interactions. No secrets. When a coworker discovers that Mae drove home to visit her parents—her dad has multiple sclerosis—she’s chastised for not having joined a company support group.

As time goes by, Mae shares more and more. Her superiors take notice, and she’s promoted. As this happens, the Circle is constantly introducing new crime-fighting technologies, like ultra-small, ultra-high-res cameras and chips that can be implanted in babies’ wrists. No vandalism, no child abduction. What could go wrong? And if something does go wrong, how can it be stopped?

You’ll have to read The Circle to find out, and I recommend that you do. Aside from a couple of preachy passages, Eggers’ book presents a chilling and perhaps all-too-prescient account of the not-so-distant future.

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