“She began to think a bit harder about the clothes she wore to work. She thought more about where she scratched, when she blew her nose or how. But it was a good kind of thinking, a good kind of calibration. And knowing she was being watched, that the Circle was, overnight, the most-watched workplace in the world, reminded her, more profoundly than ever, just how radically her life had changed in only a few months. She had been, twelve weeks ago, working at the public utility in her hometown, a town no one had heard of. Now she was communicating with clients all over the planet, commanding six screens, training a new group of newbies, and all together feeling more needed, more valued, and more intellectually stimulated than she ever thought possible.” – The Circle, page 243
Mae hasn’t always had an easy life. Graduating college with no job prospects, she was forced to move back home and take a job at the local utility in order to start paying down her massive student loans. A year and a half at this place left her with nothing but bad memories and a disgust for burlap. An only child, she is struggling with her dad’s MS diagnosis and their insurance company’s unwillingness to cover medical costs. But all this changes when Mae gets a job at The Circle.
Mae’s life has “radically” changed for the better. This job makes her feel “more needed, more valued, and more intellectually stimulated than she ever thought possible.” Eggers’ word choice is attempting to evoke a sense of empathy for Mae. Here she is, an average, young woman, full of potential and promise that The Circle is finally setting free. Everything is finally going right with her life. She is now more confident in herself, proud of her work, and excited for all the thrilling opportunities that The Circle gives her.
While I felt a bit happy for Mae, I also realized how all the things she takes pride in are actually rather futile. She works in the Customer Experience section which is the lowest in rank at The Circle. Most customers ask random questions that can be answered with a prewritten reply that Mae just has to personalize a little. Her six screens are an attempt to organize the chaos that The Circle expects her to manage. One screen shows the customer question chute, two others show emails, one is for social media, another for survey questions, and the last one is for any questions the newbies have. It is not like she is programming on one screen, compiling and running it on another, designing a new product on a laptop, and communicating with important people on her tablet. The newbies don’t have much more skill than Mae. It will only take a little time before they gain enough knowledge so that they can answer the occasional hard inquiry. The description of Mae’s feelings of her new life versus the reality the reader sees generates a false sense of security and happiness.
One can argue that it is noteworthy and terrific to truly enjoy your job no matter how mundane it might be. But The Circle is brainwashing her to feel needed, valued, and intellectually stimulated. When she is given the headset for survey questions, the guy tells her “you’re here because your opinions are valued. They’re so valued that the world needs to know them – your opinions on just about everything.” Does the world desperately need to know if Mae Holland would be willing to spend $1,200 for a weeklong trip down the Grand Canyon? How about how she feels on nonorganic hair products? No. These questions could be considered market research but why even bother when TruYou already tracks virtually every purchase, every customer, and every recommendation of every product across the world. Yet Mae feels like she’s making a difference, helping out humanity, contributing to the mass of knowledge that The Circle is collecting.
Meanwhile, The Circle has taken over social media, transforming its use and also its users in their quest to complete the circle. To paraphrase Mercer, this transformation has turned the vast majority of people into socially autistic, uninteresting, self-centered beings. No one finds enjoyment in the tangible, in the small moments of life, and especially in the unknown. Mercer sums this up perfectly in his speech to Mae. He tries to get through to her, saying “I think you think that sitting at your desk, frowning and smiling somehow makes you think you’re actually living some fascinating life. You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them.” While Mae doesn’t admit this, Mercer is absolutely correct. Looking at my selected passage, she is incredibly passionate about the work she is doing. However, looking at reality, she isn’t accomplishing anything. The Circle has shifted what it means to be human. It is generally accepted that our flaws, our three dimensionality, our experiences and relationships are what makes us human, or what makes us interesting as Mercer puts it. But The Circle wants to sum everything about us to what’s on our profile, our TruYou.
This then shifts how people conduct themselves online so that they can construct how they appear to others. In order to assimilate into this new society that The Circle has created, you must post zings about everything you do, send smiles to pretty much everyone so they know you’re friends, join groups about anything you’re remotely interested in, and connect with people all over the world to have discussions with a huge topic range. Reading the passages that describe these activities, I cringe at how they parallel our modern day use of social media. Any time I decide to check Facebook, it is almost guaranteed that I’ll scroll past one of those posts with a picture of a poor child with a caption along the lines of “1 like = 1 prayer, 1 share = 1 hug, scroll past = you’re going to hell.” This is exactly like Mae sending a frown at the Guatemalan paramilitaries and thinking she just gained this group as a personal enemy. She isn’t actually taking action against these terrorists, yet she believes she has.
Social media is mainly an outlet for people to find superficial attention which in turn fuels their ego, their happiness, and personal value. Just like how The Circle has brain washed Mae, all of the other Circlers, and all of TruYou’s users, social media has done the same to the general population. The number of likes on your selfie show how popular and attractive you are. The amount of favorites and retweets you get shows how funny and relevant you are. Liking and commenting on other peoples’ posts shows how closely connected you are with all of your friends. This is transforming us into more “socially autistic, uninteresting, self-centered beings” as well.
Not only does social media dumb us down socially, but also maturely and intellectually. Anytime Mercer has confronted Mae about how she has changed, she basically shuts down and only responds with variations of “Fuck you Mercer.” After each confrontation, she just dwells on how fat and stupid he is or how stupid she is for having dated him. She never once thinks about what he had to say. She completely disregards every point he makes and instead just reiterates how her opinion is the right one. That sounds like a stubborn child. Once again, these scenes made me cringe at how this accurately describes a lot of posts I see on Facebook. One person posts their opinion on politics, religion, or anything and within minutes, a chain of people repeating their conflicting opinions is started. These “fights” go nowhere and accomplish nothing.
Observing how closely the social media of The Circle resembles today’s social media shows how we are just as brain washed as Mae. She describes her new life as intellectually stimulating and believes that carefully choosing her every move is a “good kind of thinking, a good kind of calibration.” This is exactly how people operate on Facebook and Twitter. They carefully choose the wording of their next post, or carefully choose which pictures they upload in order to create the best appearance of themselves. Although our society is not as extreme as The Circle’s, we have been brain washed into a false sense of happiness and value through social media. We are defining ourselves and others by our profiles. We are becoming immature and ignorant. But are we losing our humanity as Mae has?