Blog #2: Fish out of Water

My blog post focuses on Mae’s visit to Stenton’s aquarium. The quote can be found on page 318:

The lobster had been consumed, and Mae saw something gruesome and wonderful: the lobster was being processed, inside the shark, in front of her, with lightning speed and incredible clarity. Mae saw the lobster broken into dozens, then hundreds of pieces, in the shark’s mouth, then saw those pieces make their way through the shark’s gullet, its stomach, its intestines. In minutes the lobster had been reduced to a grainy, particulate substance. The waste left the shark and fell like snow to the aquarium floor.

I argue that Eggers uses the shark in this part of the book as a metaphor to represent the internet as a form of control. I also argue that the feeding represents how technology consumes us, whether we resist it or not.

There is a reason Eggers chooses to use a new species of shark in this passage. It is because the internet is a new species of control. Unlike the sharks of ages past (sovereign control), today’s shark is “omnivorous and blind”. It doesn’t care if you are a subject of this kingdom or a citizen of that nation, the internet considers all humanity within its domain.  I also think that the voice in Mae’s earpiece is also an important message from Eggers: “She heard a droplet through her earpiece. “Feeding moved back to 1:02,” a voice said, it was now 12:51”. Eggers is not giving us a prophetic warning of grave danger that lurks in the distant future. Like Mae’s earpiece, he is giving us a wake-up call. Feeding time is just moments away. For some of us, we have already been eaten.

However, Georgia, the person in charge of the aquariums, is a perfect illustration of how the panopticon effect makes us oblivious to the fact that there is a hungry shark waiting just below the surface. In the book, Georgia is so concerned about putting on a good show for Mae’s viewers that she almost lets the shark bite her hand. Is this not true for us too? We are so concerned about how many facebook friends we have, how many viewers and subscribers we have, how many smiles and frowns we have that we don’t notice that a shark is dragging us further and further below the surface.

The last argument I would like to make is that Eggers claims that this grim fate awaits all of us, whether we embrace technology or not. Eggers uses the lobster and the sea turtle to symbolize this. The lobster, with “its claw lazily touching the surface” represents those who casually use the internet on a daily basis. The sea turtle represents people like Mercer and Mae’s parents who are resistant to the use of technology: “Its eyes had beheld the predator below, and was now, with the slow energy it could harness, pushing its way to the back of the container.” Eggers uses the lobster and turtle to show us that it doesn’t matter if we fight or embrace technology, the shark is going to swallow us all the same. Be you lobster, turtle, squid, or manta ray, the shark will inevitably break you down into the same thing: a “grainy particulate substance”. The internet does the same thing, it takes an individual and breaks him or her into tiny pieces: spending habits, preferences, likes and dislikes, search data, etc.

The worst part of all this is that it will most likely change nothing about the way that I use the internet and technology, and I am confident that I am not alone. Just like Mae was able to see, with perfect clarity, the transition from lobster to waste, so too are we students of narrative and technology able to see how the internet transforms us into standing reserve…and yet, we will still willingly feed ourselves to the shark.  Galloway compares fighting protocol to fighting gravity. In a similar way, Eggers is comparing fighting technology to a fish trying to live out of water.

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2 Responses to Blog #2: Fish out of Water

  1. Oh wow, perfect analysis! After reading the aquarium scene, I had taken it as a metaphor for The Circle demolishing people’s identities, because of how the shark was referred to as Stenton’s shark, but this reading of it is way more affecting.


  2. exelsisxax says:

    I actually read that passage a completely different way, though it may just be based on a mistake in assuming that Eggers described an impossible shark on purpose. There is no way that a shark would not react to the presence of a nearby human, but would suddenly go crazy when a lobster is brought in. They don’t behave this way. When I read it I instantly wondered how a shark had access to this knowledge when it would be physiologically impossible for a blind shark to distinguish between potential prey. But most people probably didn’t bat an eye, just like almost everyone in the novel just accepts the circle without the slightest bit of investigation. The [i]transparency[/i] of the shark, its impossible speed of digestion, and why it moves faster than a snail are also really weird things that don’t make any sense for real sharks. It’s almost like the aberrant shark is the Circle to the normal sharks of normal corporations. That, or Eggers just doesn’t know much about marine biology.


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