Saturday, January 25, 2014

Big Brother Is...

In The Circle, David Eggers's imagined society in the not so distant future, it's not that Big Brother is watching. Instead, everyone is watching each other. The Circle is a fictional Silicon Valley corporation which has absorbed earlier social media outlets like Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook into the all encompassing TruYou. It sounds so appealing – one password, one identity, one account which connects you to everything and everyone.

Mae Holland joins The Circle as a starry-eyed enthusiast of this new vision, and is thrilled by her job. The 'campus' is luxurious, with fountains, playing fields, artwork, themed buildings, gourmet restaurants, even dormitories for those wanting to avoid commuting home. And if her job Customer Experience at first seems menial, she is buoyed by the constant encouragement she receives as she works to keep her satisfaction rating above 98%. In fact, much of her life begins to revolve around numbers and ratings. The more she 'likes', the more she 'zings' (the tweet replacement), the more she joins groups, signs petitions, answers surveys, the higher her ratings climb. In this utopian atmosphere transparency is the new normal and company mottoes like “Privacy is Theft” and “Sharing is Caring” encourage the notion that if everyone knows everything then social ills will be eliminated.

Is this so hard to imagine, with so many people today willingly giving up their privacy to social networks? Eggers certainly pushes the envelope, but he raises interesting questions about how persuasive our own version of Big Brother can seem.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Favorite Books of 2013

It's time again to pick my favorite books of the year. My blog production was down this year – my New Year's resolution is to produce more in 2014. But I still have lots of recommendations for books that touched me, surprised me, fascinated me. So here are my top three, with three move runners-up too good to ignore:

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers surprised me - he managed to encapsulate so many of the themes of America in the twenty-first century into the travails of one decent man.


Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son fascinated me – it was an eye-opening glimpse at life in North Korea as well as the heart-warming story of an everyman who became a hero.

Alice McDermott's Someone touched me – McDermott managed to turn the ordinary life of an ordinary woman into a pitch perfect narrative.

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is an absorbing exploration of second chances.

Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – What is a family? What does it mean to be human?

Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers – True stories in a Mumbai slum which are far more powerful than fiction.