I was out of crickets, and Delilah hadn’t eaten in three days. That’s the longest a leopard gecko should go without food, so I stopped at a local privately-owned pet store to pick up some more crickets. I normally go to Petco, or order online, but this was closer and I didn’t want Delilah to wait an extra day for an overnight delivery.
The owner was sitting behind the counter. I asked for crickets; he asked why he hadn’t seen me before. “I normally do my pet orders online,” I said.
What followed was an almost cartoonish display of anger. This guy was nuts. He told me I should always come in to buy my pet products. When I told him that I have four cats, a rabbit, a gecko, and fish, and that buying online was much more convenient, he said to just make one trip a week and buy smaller quantities. More expensive, I pointed out. He replied that in a brick-and-mortar store, you can see what you’re buying. I countered that with the fact that online, you can select what you want to buy from a wide selection so you get the best product to fit your needs. At this point, he’s red and I’m stunned. He ranted for a minute or two about how much he hates people who order their products online.
“Whatever. Whatever, I don’t care,” he muttered. He stalked off to get my crickets, grumbling under his breath. When he rang me up, he charged me double for the crickets and only gave me half as many as I ordered. I didn’t say anything. They were wrapped up in a sad little thin bag without any cardboard. “People like you are going to put me out of business. People shopping on the internet. Bad customers. I expect I won’t see you again, will I?”
Well, like, no fucking way, dude. I totally would have been a repeat customer and done my non-heavy pet shopping there—treats, toys, collars, clippers, crickets, fish food, dechlorinator. Now, though, yeah, online. Online’s good.
So the story part is over. If you got through it, bless you. I know I write too much.
But here’s the thing: on the bus ride home, I realized that all of the things I used to defend my choice to shop online are also the things I believe Eggers—and we as students—criticize. I’m not the only one who likes to do online shopping because of the ability to compare prices. When you have all of the information you need to make an informed decision, you’re benefiting from transparency. We post our reviews and answer questionnaires, which benefit other people considering buying these products. But each time we do, we give a little more of ourselves away. Person X bought a copy of Twilight, Person Y buys a monthly subscription for small animal bedding, Person Z bought handcuffs. On a small scale, a little review seems meaningless, but all of this information adds up and forms your digital profile. You’re judged based on this. You’re misrepresented. You’re targeted based on this. Hell, you may even pay higher prices just based on your browsing history alone. But we still do it.
I don’t like it, but I do it because it’s cheaper. I do it because I have a better idea of quality. I do it because it keeps me organized. I write reviews because I want to help other people make informed decisions. I do it, honestly, to avoid human interaction.
And yet I come down hard when Eggers skewers the hypocrisy of transparency (in the passage we read today), the creepiness of monitoring systems (Mae’s health-track bracelet), the consumption of individuality (in relation to the museums and estates selling art to Circle), and the way in which human interaction is replaced by virtual interaction (Mae’s increasingly superficial interactions through Circle’s “social” media). I totally agree that these are creepy and potentially even dangerous things.
I don’t have a Facebook profile. I like to think that I have no digital footprint, but I’m aware that information about my purchases, purchasing habits, interests, searches, etc. are being stored. I’m aware that things progress, that we’re evolving around our technology and that The Circle, while set in the future, is comprised almost entirely of current issues and events that we just aren’t seeing for what they are. But I do it anyway. And I’m having trouble being whatever the anti-Team Circle is because I already have too much of a connection to the convenience of technology.
Delilah is still hungry; she ate all of the crickets I got for her, and I need to get some more. I’m such a hypocrite, but ordering online is just so damn convenient. Only $6.00 for a box of 115. It’s a small price to pay, right?