Blog Post #2: We Are Our Vices

“The first time the camera redirected her actions was when she went to the kitchen for something to eat. The image on her wrist showed the interior of the refrigerator as she scanned for a snack. Normally, she would have grabbed a chilled brownie, but seeing the image of her hand reaching for it, and seeing what everyone else would be seeing, she pulled back. She closed the fridge, and from the bowl on the counter, she selected a packet of almonds, and left the kitchen. Later that day, a headache appeared – caused, she thought, by eating less chocolate than usual.”  – The Circle, page 331

If we knew what the essence of humanity was, I know without a doubt that it wouldn’t be perfect. It wouldn’t even come close to good. Even if you knew the essence of any one incredible human being, it still wouldn’t touch perfection. One of my English professors once said that if you asked a room full of people to list their good qualities, their strengths, you would get absolutely the same generic answers from everyone. If you asked the same group to list their vices, you would get something unique from everyone, something that actually makes them who they are. “We are our vices,” he said. I absolutely believe that, and, from reading The Circle, Dave Eggers does, as well.

Mae isn’t allowed to be human anymore. In the excerpt above, Eggers explicitly states that the only reason Mae doesn’t get a brownie is because “the camera redirected her actions”. Notice: he didn’t say that “people” changed her actions, but that “the camera” did. In The Circle, cameras have become these enforcers of protocol.

Time to bring Galloway into the picture. There’s a reason that he discusses protocol in terms of machines: because protocol doesn’t allow for the deviation of humanity. It’s a rigid structure that everything inherits from, and it doesn’t allow for the uniqueness that comes with being human. In The Circle, however, people are turning into objects of protocol, and that’s the main problem with the “utopia” that is The Circle.

Mae turns herself over to be controlled by the cameras by viewing herself as a stranger would, by being able to see the camera’s view on her screen. It’s also important that Eggers doesn’t discuss the reason she’s reaching for a brownie, because that’s not what’s important, it’s not what makes her change her mind. This isn’t metacognition, this is putting on a show. Since Mae sees her camera’s view, her life becomes unreal. It becomes a video game, where she needs to make the correct choice to get to the end. It doesn’t look good for Mae to be pulling a brownie out of the fridge, so she gets something else. Since she normally would have gotten a brownie, this vice has now been erased. Part of her humanity is now just gone, because of the camera.

Eggers even goes so far as to have this injury to Mae’s humanity manifest in a physical way, in the form of her headache, that develops as a direct result of not indulging in her vice. Then, when she is about to get rid of her headache with aspirin, social protocol strikes again, and she soldiers on. She gets stuck in a loop of following what she thinks she needs to do, so she never indulges. When everyone is an object of the same protocol, no one will deviate. You inherit the same generic good qualities, and your vices are abandoned, which benefits everyone but yourself, and so ends up benefitting no one.

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9 Responses to Blog Post #2: We Are Our Vices

  1. Junglist says:

    If everyone’s on camera, and so many people are watching other people, wouldn’t you eventually end up watching people watch other people and just lose interest?

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    • But the thing is, the people who are being watched don’t really watch other people. Mae’s job has become to entertain these watchers, as I’m sure many people’s role in this new society will become. And even so, you can watch people watch other people and still be entertained, it happens all the time! On Twitter, you see who the people you follow (followees?) follow in the form of retweets. On Facebook, you see what your Facebook friends have seen in the form of whatever it is that Facebook uses.

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      • Junglist says:

        I guess that’s why I don’t participate much in social networking. I have never understood the appeal of twitter, I deleted my facebook account years ago. 500 Characters is only useful for delivering URLs, not complete thoughts. The only useful function of twitter is to deliver links to news/articles.

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      • That’s awesome! Yeah, having social networking accounts is a strange and unnecessary concept if you really think about it.

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  2. epiratequeen says:

    This is a very interesting commentary. I hadn’t heard of the “we are our vices” idea before, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s also important that Mae views all of this as a positive thing–at this point in the story, she is thrilled to be in the public eye 24/7 and believes that the camera redirecting her actions is making her a better person. Protocol, in Mae’s eye, is unilaterally good. Defying protocol has never brought her or her parents or Mercer or Annie any happiness or peace, so why should she try to? It’s very scary how quickly Mae’s life becomes completely dictated by the camera around her neck, but it’s even scarier that she takes so much comfort from it.

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  3. thawardasa says:

    This is a very interesting observation, and one that also caught my eye. Celebrities hate being celebrities because they lose so much of their privacy, and can’t live private lives. In Mae’s case, she’s choosing to be essentially one of the most public people in the world. People even know when she’s in the bathroom, and can see what she’s seeing while sitting on a toilet. That’s not only past the boundary of what I’d consider acceptable, it’s waaaay on the other side of the limit. Not much good can come from that little privacy. You lose your human qualities.

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    • larsondanger says:

      You mention celebrities and that brings up an interesting contradiction, I think. In a lot of cases, a person becomes a celebrity because they express one of their talents, a part of who they are. And sometimes their vices are communicated through their talents. In a way, a person becomes a celebrity for being themselves. Then, once they are a celebrity, they can no longer be themselves because they are constantly scrutinized. They lose their privacy as you said, and lose a big part of themselves

      Liked by 1 person

  4. zucconi says:

    Even though you can choose to destroy your computer, you still aren’t defying protocol. It is still there and still working. I feel like this kind of parallels Mae and her parents. Mae is choosing protocol while her parents are choosing to cover up their cameras. On page 374, her parents have insisted that she cease contact unless it is private. This is like how without protocol, there would be no way of communicating. They choose to not use the system and therefore they can’t communicate with their daughter unless she turns off her device too.

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  5. rwl14 says:

    I would agree in almost every sense. “We are our vices” is a unique and excellent way of describing us. It is important, though, to notice that the panoptic system set up by this camera has resulted in what one could view as positives. After all, almonds are, in most cases, a healthier choice than chocolate brownies, but this doesn’t matter, because Mae makes no choice here. After all, Mae is not choosing the almonds because they are better; she chooses the almonds because it looks better. No actual choice is made. Her viewers, who she may never meet and whose opinions may never matter, are now removing her choices, her vices, and her humanity from her life.

    Liked by 1 person

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