Dave Eggers had watched the internet grow up around him in San Francisco, like vines up the buildings he passed every day — 20 years he has spent in that city.
Seven out of those 20, he spent sketching ideas and contemplating a society completely enveloped in the “perfection” of technology and rather than telling the story of immediate chaos, he started with hope.
His book, “The Circle,” follows a “bright-eyed” young woman named Mae as she finds her way in a dystopian society in which privacy has negative connotations and going off the grid is no easy feat.
Eggers didn’t think he had anything special to say that hadn’t already been said until 2010 when he picked up on a shift. Monopolies. A concentration of power under one name. As an economics major, Eggers found interest in this and more importantly, he found it problematic for society.
“The companies that exist now have held on to power for a while and they don’t seem to be going away,” Eggers said.
Along with powerful companies, he found the blatant surveillance that carries on minute-by-minute disturbing. He said the creepy aspect motivated him. He took notes and didn’t know what to do with them.
He thought about making it non-fiction or a journalistic account or essays. Eggers said others were doing what he was thinking, far better than he could.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I could tell a story,’” Eggers said.
Note taking may take three years and the composition or route he chooses to take — the culmination — may come later on. His feelings toward technology have dropped jaws in presentations, though. Eggers joined a group of over 100 students in the Student Center Ballroom on Nov. 30 to discuss his book.
He whipped out a $25 flip phone as he talked about his reclusive habits when finishing out his novels. Eggers said he must escape technology in order to pump out chapters.
The character Mercer is the obvious guess when wondering who Eggers connects to. Eggers said there is a piece of him projected into every character, remember that he himself lives in the tech-center world he is writing about — just in a decade or two.
The idea of constant surveillance, the climax of the book’s technological bounds, was an idea Eggers said he wrestled with himself while carefully crafting dialogs and throwing pros and cons around.
A watchful eye preventing crime, he wondered. “How could anyone be against that,” Eggers questioned.
“If we are tracked the whole time, I don’t think we’re human, necessarily. We are some other kind of species. Free will defines us,” Eggers said. “With creeping surveillance, we do lose a vast majority of our free will and I think the two things are mutually exclusive.”
Although surveillance to the degree of the Circle has not come to fruition just yet, Eggers has seen a few of his creations come to life in chilling ways. Starting with Apple’s announcement of their new headquarters.
A campus shaped like a circle.
He’d seen tech-campuses grow and absorb parts of the towns around them, because of their appeal and innovation. The idea of living on these campuses came from friends of his in California that have been encouraged not to leave. Eggers said if they don’t leave, they stay productive.
“I wanted Mae to have that feeling that on campus everything is perfected — everything is the best of it’s kind,” Eggers said. “Excercise, yoga, doga are all in one place, so the world outside, by comparison, is filthy, chaotic and less desirable.”
Eggers said on these real-time campuses, that is the case.
Then you’ve got the discussion of China’s implication of the social credit score. Eggers said he has wondered if a social credit score in the United States could become reality if the country were commanded by a more heavy-handed leader or the public’s rights were infringed upon after crisis or downfall.
“Any given administration: The more these tools are available and stored they can be used,” Eggers said. “We haven’t seen these tools be used on a mass scale, we haven’t seen that many horrific outcomes. I think they can happen though.”
The truth and possibility to “The Circle” is unmistakably a warning. Eggers said he wanted to first scare himself. He said every gadget or technology painted on the pages of his novel was created and intended to scare him.
Eggers said he kept thinking, “What else could go wrong?” The ideas being pitched by ripe workers of 23-years-old, under the impression that everything being pitched is the way to a better society.
“I don’t prescribe anything on anyone, but I like to have discussion especially with college students,” Eggers said. “If you are struggling with [the balance of technology and life] then there is something inherently wrong with the tools. They are just supposed to be positive.”
Eggers finds himself struggling with the balance, which explains his sabbaticals while he writes and his use of an old-school cell phone. He links this struggle back to his childhood where the television illuminated his house 18 hours a day.
Eggers said everything was done in front of the television, even homework and he feels that many people can power through that and succeed. But, many cannot.
“I struggle with distraction and retraining my brain to concentrate calmy without distraction, without the television,” Eggers said.
He said better-prepared brains will be equipped with the tool and traits they need if there is a limit placed on the exposure to screens until the brain is fully formed.
“They will be far better humans, than if they have to fight against these tools that have been designed to fragment, distract, fray and create an infinitely shallower daily cognitive experience,” Egger said. “To put that in someone’s hands and say ‘Deal with this. Good luck in school. Here is a tool that is designed to make you think shallower.’ I think that is an unnecessary handicap.”