by Cathleen Miller.
“Privacy is theft.” So declares Mae Holland as she succumbs to the notion of wearing a real-time video camera to prove her “transparency” as the public is able to view her all day long. Mae is the protagonist in Dave Egger’s novel The Circle, a futuristic saga of employee life with the world’s most powerful internet company set on a sprawling California campus… a tale that seems eerily familiar.
And for this reason SJSU’s Campus Reading Program chose The Circle as this year’s selection. According to the program’s director, Scot Guenter, “Aside from being a compelling narrative, The Circle rose to the top of the 2015 list in part because it is set in Silicon Valley, in the near future, and imagines some startling and transformative advances in social media and technology, and as a result, daily life and interaction, that the committee thought would provide lively stimulation for student interest, engagement, and discussion. And besides, those changes, while disseminating from here, are occurring on a global level, in a manner that deserves everyone’s scrutiny and reflection.”
While the campus community is reading the novel en masse, this opportunity has spawned other types of engagement with the narrative. Professor Jessa Brie Moreno is working on a stage adaptation. She says, “In joining SJSUs TRFT Department last year, I became inspired to develop a student ensemble on devised and co-developed works. Co-created theatrical experiences are empowering, non-hierarchical models that provide a depth of learning and engagement not always accessed by more traditional forms.
“When TRFT Chair David Kahn brought to my attention that the campus-wide novel would be Dave Eggers’ The Circle, it seemed the perfect piece for such a navigation.” Thus Moreno was able to acquire rights to the work and set about creating an adaptation.
Adding another dimension to the stage production will be Professor James Morgan and the students in SJSU’s Game Development Club. They will help collaborate by integrating technology into the theatre-going experience.
Campus experts from a variety of disciplines will add rich facets to the discussion on The Circle. As Moreno notes: “We are in the heart of Silicon Valley, and the appeal of landing a job at a leading tech company is real for much of our student body. The protagonist, Mae, is not unlike any self-assured, entrepreneurial young woman, whose ethics come into question as she navigates the meaning of personal success in this environment. The Circle stands as a cautionary tale of morality in this age of connectivity, and brings up some real-life questions around how far it will all go. Our production team is already emailing daily articles in the news that mirror concepts in the text. It couldn’t be more timely.”
Eggers himself wrote about the eerie timeliness of his creation while writing the novel: “A lot of times I’d think of something that a company like the Circle might dream up, something a little creepy, and then I’d read about the exact invention, or even something more extreme, the next day.” The Campus Reading Program website lists all events associated with The Circle, so be sure to check there for events in which you can participate! This program is one of many ways that we support our faculty, staff, and students and encourage co-curricular programming that helps to enrich student experiences at SJSU!