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With ‘The Circle’ as Guide, Campus to Explore Intersection of Technology and Privacy

In a world replete with cameras and computers, novel by Dave Eggers – the 2014 Common Reading selection at RWU – speaks directly to digital natives

BRISTOL, R.I. – Published in 2013, The Circle – a novel by award-winning writer Dave Eggers that considers the consequences of surrendering personal lives for public exhibition in the digital age – raises questions about privacy and identity, the ethics of powerful corporations and which entities should be allowed to collect our personal data.

With the selection of The Circle as the 2014 Common Reading text at Roger Williams University, the incoming class will have the opportunity to explore those questions (and many more) in depth through a series of conversations and events this summer and across the entirety of the 2014-15 academic year.

“It’s a book that speaks directly to our students and their generation,” says Mario J. Gabelli School of Business faculty member Brett McKenzie, a member of the Common Reading Committee. “The ideas and issues in this book are things we’re not necessarily talking enough about. What happens if we take the interconnected social network to the extremes? It leads to questions: Do we really want to continue down this path? Do we want to judge people based on the strength of their social networks?”

Set in the near future, the story introduces Mae, a woman in her 20s, on her first day of work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, which integrates its users’ social media and personal accounts into one online existence. Mesmerized by the company’s prestige and influence, Mae trades anonymity for ambition, competing relentlessly to climb the ranks of the Circle while her performance – and everyone else’s at the company – is on constant display.

Robert Eisinger, dean of the Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences and a selection committee member, says The Circle will provoke conversation on issues that range from privacy and intimacy to gender, authority and autonomy.

“Eggers is a talented writer with a style that is easily accessible and curiously unique,” Eisinger says. “The Circle has Orwellian overtones, raising important questions about how much citizens in a representative democracy yearn for freedom, and how privacy is increasingly a challenging idea in a world replete with cameras and computers.”

As part of the First Year Experience initiative at Roger Williams, the Common Reading program will commence this year’s FYE theme of Adaptation and Change. First Year Experience programming will be focused on encouraging students to experience academic engagement inside and outside the classroom, learn to think critically, value service and civic engagement, and use services and resources that will make them successful student scholars.

Copies of The Circle will be delivered to faculty members in June and will be distributed to all first-year and transfer students during Orientation sessions. Additional copies for staff members will be available at the reserve desk in the University Library and in the Conferences Office.

Throughout the academic year, the University will explore The Circle through a series of events (details to be shared in the near future) and an essay contest open to all undergraduates.

In addition to McKenzie and Eisinger, the 2014 Common Reading Committee included: Jeremy Campbell (anthropology), Charlotte Carrington (history), Allison Chase Padula (student affairs) and Becky Spritz (psychology).