My favorite part of reading The Circle is that, much like the Pawel Kuczynski cartoons posted by Professor Fest, it brings our attention to the subtle cultural differences that exist because of facebook. For my age group this is especially hard to notice. I’ve had a facebook account since I was 14. The majority of my peers have as well. Because facebook is something we’ve all grown up with, it’s also harder for us to notice the subtle difference in the way we relate to each other and the world around us. I’ve decided to make a list of the ways that I think “facebook culture” has changed things.
(1) You can be “defined by your preferences.” This is what most upsets Mae about Francis using her in the presentation. I know many of us (myself very much included) are guilty of looking through someone’s likes on facebook and then enjoying the illusion of having learned more about that person. In reality what someone’s facebook pages says about themselves is VERY one dimensional and very limited. For example, I have two close friends who define themselves as “Roman Catholic” on facebook. But from having been lucky enough to get to know these individuals I know that their relationships with the Church are very different. My personal, unsubstantiated opinion is that facebook culture will make us less likely to get to know each other and delve deeper into understanding each other’s beliefs, opinions, preferences etc… because facebook creates a false sense of knowing.
Consider the moment when Denise questions Mae’s sense of self-worth, because she isn’t especially active on social media. “Mae, I’m no psycologist,” she begins (p. 189). I believe the point Eggers is trying to make here is that in this age of knowing all kinds of superficial things about each other, we’ve forgotten just how complicated psychology and human nature are.
“Having a matrix of preferences presented as your essence, as the whole you? Maybe that was it. It was some kind of mirror, but it was incomplete, distorted. And if Francis wanted any or all of that information, why couldn’t he just ask her?” (p. 126) THIS is quintessential facebook culture, which brings me to my next point:
(2) We don’t get our knowledge from other humans. I noticed this while touring Eastern Europe with my grandmother. When we wanted to ask for directions or find a good place to eat was, my first instinct was to pull out the iphone and look up google maps or yelp. My grandmother pointed out to me that this is a pretty weak way to learn about the world, especially while traveling. By never asking questions and never interacting with the people around us we miss out on a very valuable way to gain knowledge.
My high school world history teacher believes that this is the reason that the elderly are not valued in our culture. For centuries the elderly were our connection to the past and an invaluable source of knowledge. In the age of information, now that we have the internet, this isn’t the case anymore.
(3) There’s an increased potential for hurt feelings and misunderstandings. One of the absolute most obnoxious things about facebook is that with the messanger tool the other party can tell when you’ve seen their message even if you haven’t responded. So if you don’t respond to a message or invitation immediately it gives an impression of disrespect, even if this is not your intention at all, even if you’re just taking some time to think of what to say. In The Circle the adults are comically sensitive (i.e. Alistair’s ridiculous responds to Mae’s missing the Portugal brunch, p. 106).
“There’s this new neediness–it pervades everything,” says Mercer (p, 134). I’m guilty of this too! I confess I was hoping my Kermode post would get a bit more attention (although if you’re reading this Steph don’t think I take your one comment for granted, even if I haven’t gotten around to responding!). That last sentence and parenthetical are perfect example of this new “neediness.” My points (1) and (3) are both reflections on the awkwardness and confusion that come from the illusion of simplification that the internet brings to our social relations.
(4) Attention=success. I can’t be the only person sick of businesses and organizations practically begging me to tweet about them and like their pages. It’s completely changed the way marketing works. Suddenly consumers are an essential part of the advertising process. Yes, word of mouth has always played a role in the success of businesses and it’s true that businesses will always need to be liked in order to succeed. But suddenly the focus is on customer opinions and customer based marketing, perhaps more so than it is on creating something of quality and value.
I believe that this is an opinion Eggers expresses through his character Mercer, who vehemently resists Mae’s efforts to expand his business through social media. “I know I’m successful if I sell chandeliers. If people order them, then I make them, and they pay me money for them. If they have something to say afterward, they can call me or write me,” he says (p. 133).
My own concern is that artists and entrepreneurs are going to forget that sometimes beautiful and wonderful creations are valuable even if they aren’t widely liked or appreciated. I want to live in a society where entrepreneurs and artists are like Mercer: more concerned with their product itself than the reaction to the product.
(5) We don’t forget people. How many of us are facebook-friends with people we haven’t seen since childhood? I know I am. Do you realize how weird this is? Through out all of human history, up until just a few years ago, forgetting people has been a part of life. It’s incredibly unnatural to know anything about playmates you haven’t seen since elementary school. Suddenly there’s a whole new type of relationship: facebook friend.
This list is definitely not complete. These are just my observations. I’d really like to hear from others about aspects of facebook culture I haven’t noticed yet.