I’m a hypocrite, and it’s complicating my reading of The Circle.

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?

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3 Responses to I’m a hypocrite, and it’s complicating my reading of The Circle.

  1. exelsisxax says:

    I don’t think you’re a hypocrite. I’d put a very large distinction between the existence and use of product/service rating sites and their monopolization under a single corporation that doesn’t let you use anything unless you give them unconditional access to everything you have and will ever do using the internet. That guy behind the counter is mad because there exists alternatives to his business which prove to be more attractive to consumers. The circle digs into people’s search history and ruins them when they dare question their seemingly total control of internet based interactions.
    The Circle makes use of a weird kind of slippery slope fallacy. Pointing out that increased video coverage of things like police activities or in countries with common civil rights violations is accurate, and maybe police officers need more than just a dashcam. It DOESN’T follow that collecting video on every single speck of dust worldwide is a good idea. The Circle hasn’t ever heard of moderation, I guess.

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  2. I agree that you are not a hypocrite. In fact, your post speaks to one of the real things I was trying to push on today, and to one of the real challenges for thinking about technology in general: the Circle’s tools are not inherently bad/evil/whatever. Nor are they inherently good. Remember how Donna Haraway emphasized irony, that “irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true” (Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” 7)? This is the challenge presented by contemporary life, by Dave Eggers’s take on the control society, by information technology, by being cyborgs. All these conditions involve, unavoidably, holding incompatible things together. Your feelings about purchasing stuff online is the result of experiencing firsthand the contradictions of contemporary life: that control increases, but so does “freedom,” and of course vice versa as well. This is what Foucault is after too: “The ‘Enlightenment,’ which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines” (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 222). So perhaps the appropriate stance (emphasis on the perhaps; I am not convinced yet) is not one of rejecting the world Eggers is displaying (as if that were even possible) nor embracing it uncritically, but rather approaching the situation with irony and blasphemy. “The only way out is through. The only possible oppositional stance is one of embracing these new control technologies, generalizing them, and opening them up without reserve” (Shaviro, “Gamer,” 116).

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  3. Steph Roman says:

    This is really thoughtful, but as with the others, I disagree with the alleged hypocrisy. Ordering things online is massively convenient and oftentimes cheaper. I buy 85% of my schoolbooks online. I buy games online. The Internet, when viewed abstractly, is a massively useful tool to expedite our wants and needs to our doors. Unfortunately, this also means that small business owners have to fluctuate prices based on the online economy. If the pet store owner was going to charge you a sharp increase over the online price in ADDITION to the inconvenience of traveling on the bus with a cage full of crickets, then that’s poor capitalist design on his part.

    I take a different stance, however, in that I don’t review products. I don’t find a need to. But it doesn’t mean that everything we say and do on the Internet isn’t cached where advertisers can find it and access your data. Facebook is particularly notorious for this because it specifically targets you simply based on what your recent Google searches are. I have an Adblocker installed, but it’s still gathering my information. Don’t like it, can’t prevent it, but I can at least avoid seeing it.

    Similarly, Amazon used to be catastrophically monopolistic. My dad, a business owner, would order things from there because of free shipping and no taxes. Amazon has now implemented taxes and doesn’t hold the same power it used to, but of course it’s still the dominant American online shop because it’s easier to have stuff mailed to the door rather than lugging 25+ books back to my apartment from the Pitt bookstore that rips you off…

    Liked by 1 person

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