Book Review – The Circle, Dave Eggers


For something different, this month I review a fiction book … or is it? The Circle by Dave Eggers is either a techno-social utopia, or a social media and technology ridden hells-cape, depending on your particular view of the power of technology versus the right to privacy and choice. I thought it might be relevant to review this as anyone who is interested in marketing and the use of data and analytics will find this book interesting. There is also a movie coming out very soon starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks no less.

The Circle is a company roughly comparable to a combined Facebook, Google, and Apple. They have managed to merge everyone’s digital service and social media needs into one account which can only be held by a real citizen with real details. The lead character, Mae, lands a coveted job in the company and begins work in CE (customer experience) handling online support. Everything is driven by numbers, to the point of hilarity. Oh, did I mention the work is purely satirical? It is but it is spooky in how it can be envisaged into reality as you read it.

The more The Circle can learn about its users, and the more it can leverage of the user’s use of its products, the more innovation is possible to increase its reach and potential to provide services. These services become more and more invasive to the point of constant and global surveillance, but it does have some attractive uses. Imagine a politician wearing a live camera on their chest 24/7 so we can access their every negotiation. Would it end corruption?

As with every good novel there is conflict as the ex-boyfriend of the lead character Mae mounts a personal rebellion against The Circle and its far-reaching eyes and provides the alternative view to all pervasive surveillance in the name of service provision and security.

It plays on how social media works with comically feverish participation in social networks, survey participation, and subject matter forums. Again, the more you participate, the higher your ratings and follower numbers, the more highly regarded you are. A digital marketing guru’s dream.

There are a few take-aways for thinking about your business and marketing, particularly the commitment to excellent service and quality which it appears to borrow from Steve Jobs. Also, it depicts (albeit outrageously) the importance of analytics and marketing awareness to inform service improvements and innovation, and shows us some pretty handy techniques to gather data.

There are inevitable tragedies and it carries an elephant of a message, does giving up privacy to a company result in a global panopticon, a corporate totalitarianism super-power.

It is fairly long, but there is enough humour, characterisation, and entertainment to carry it. Not to compare them but if you have read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984, you get the idea of The Circle. A satirical commentary, and perhaps warning, on the information & digital age.

Image Credit: The Daily Beast

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