Updated: Jan 6, 2022
Big Brother has essentially come true, just not in the way George Orwell’s 1984 predicted. Have you noticed that every app on your phone has ‘tracking policies’ for ‘improved advertisements’? Or that a single mention of those shoes you liked results in a bombardment of advertisements on every social media platform of that exact pair? Even though the Government is not constantly watching us, this does not mean it is not ‘always watching’. From the omnipotence of social media and omnipresence of mobile phones listening to our every move, it is undeniable that Big Brother truly exists. And if you are still unsure of modern technology’s totalitarian style ruling over our lives, Dave Eggers’ The Circle frighteningly illustrates otherwise. If you take anything from his dystopian world, it will be nothing less than the desire to throw your phone far, far away.
The ideology that social media was designed as an open journal on which anyone and everyone could freely express their thoughts and feelings is perfectly reflected in The Circle, along with the true extent of its dark and dangerous side. In 1984, Winston’s journal, albeit illegal, is the only mode through which he can freely express himself. In contrast, despite that Mae is actually encouraged to freely express herself, it quickly becomes clear throughout the narrative that it is more of a requirement. Whenever Mae’s online activity dips, she is called in for a meeting to ‘check in’ on her wellbeing. The charming façade offers a positive and empathetic advancement on humanity compared to 1984, however, when looking closely, you realise that Mae is given no choice other than to share her every thought, move and feeling. Thus, the idea of connectivity has ultimately been twisted into an eradication of privacy; Mae’s thoughts and feelings no longer belong to just herself. Eggers’ novel, then, perfectly criticises the false sense of freedom social media has given the world; we must begin to question how freely it allows us to speak, when the truth is that social media has become a way to judge, criticise and spy on one another.
Interpersonal relationships in both novels are extremely surface level – nobody is to be trusted and the ability to have deep connections is ultimately destroyed. Both Winston and Mae must adhere to a certain code of behaviour within their worlds in order to maintain their positions. In The Circle, however, there is no obvious reduction of language, yet it is completely controlled through an online risk of judgement and isolation. Mae is never able to express what she really thinks, particularly once she agrees to ‘go transparent’. Here, Eggers’ flawlessly condemns our addiction to technology and social media: if you consider the new age of social media influencers and YouTubers, whose followers expect them to ‘vlog’ and document every moment of their lives, Eggers’ narrative is again nothing more than a step from reality. Many of them are unable to take breaks without a bombardment of questions and backlash from their idolising fans, and they do not tend to rest until they receive an acceptable and ‘honest’ explanation. Whilst Mae somewhat chooses her transparency, the sad reality is that we are blindly experiencing these same levels of constant surveillance; there is no such thing as privacy anymore, and there is always somebody watching.
I would like to end this on a positive reminder that no one is safe from the power of social media. In light of the recent revelations surrounding the Government’s illegal Covid Christmas parties back in 2020, I hope you may also see the silver lining. As much as Big Brother is always watching us, there are people out there watching Big Brother. Civil rights organisations such as ‘Big Brother Watch’ are working hard to defend people against surveillance and privacy threats across the UK. We must remember that, as overwhelming as the world’s technological presence is, we do have the power to stop totalitarianism from happening. Social media is a contradictory and risky game and if we play it right, maybe we can embrace the community and take back the freedom it has always promised us.