“…Within hours she was hearing from friends from high school and college. who had located her, who now could watch her work. Her middle-school gym teacher, who had once thought Mae insufficiently serious about the President’s Physical Fitness Test, now seemed impressed. Good to see you working so hard, Mae! A guy she dated briefly in college wrote: Don’t you ever leave that desk?
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… ” (Eggers, 243)
This novel shows that it is important to distinguish between information and knowledge, and that some degree of privacy is necessary to keep people sane. Human beings cannot handle the information overload that results from completing the circle. In this passage I think being surrounded by cameras has made Mae incredibly neurotic, every aspect of her life has become quantified, gamified. Social Anxiety and fear of being shamed has caused her to modify every part of her life even “when she blew her nose or how.”
Having unknowns in her life was a source of anxiety for Mae, and now everything in the world is becoming known to everyone. However, global transparency just uproots even more sources of anxiety for Mae. Mae distracts herself by focusing on making herself as popular as possible, with the highest possible scores in everything, but when Mae later gets a 97% approval rating within the circle, she becomes even more anxious over the 3% that have her a frowny face. I believe this is how Eggers is shows the workings of panopticism in the post-modern world. Post-modern panopticism is driven by social anxiety and shame. Mae feels the eyes of the whole world watching her, and modifies every little detail in her behavior. Although Mae thinks of it as “a good kind of thinking, a good kind of calibration,” I can tell that as Mae continues to fill her head with useless information through the pursuit of perfection, she will eventually lose her mind.
The amount of information constantly thrown at Mae is more than a human being can process. Eggers uses the word knowledge multiple times throughout the book when what he really means is information. In the passage Mae receives praise from her gym teacher and chiding comment from an ex-boyfriend, no doubt she is getting hundreds more messages all filled with more information than she know what to do with (other than a quick glance and the odd comment). Information has no meaning unless we do something with it to give it meaning. We gain knowledge from information once we understand it and can use it. For the most part Zing/Twitter/Facebook posts consist of mostly useless information, there is little knowledge to be gained there. This is part of why it is important to examine how Eggers has made the world in the circle so similar to the world we actually live in.
The technology featured in the novel is not so outlandish. We already are working on the sort of 2 year battery life possible with the SeeChange cameras, Zing seems to be an exact clone of twitter, and wearable technology can already give you social media notifications, heart rate, and step count all on the same device. The Circle seems eerily similar to Google, (google’s company slogan is: Don’t be evil) though they take a very closed-source and proprietary approach to their software and services very much like Apple. The politicians in the novel are praised for going completely transparent, yet in reality our politicians are already quite transparent. Americans can already check a congressman’s voting history, which lobbyists contributed the most money to him/her, but they don’t because they would rather do something interesting. Full transparency of politicians would not help inform the public any more than the amount of transparency we have now.
The Circle is not making all knowledge able to be known, it is making it more difficult to give meaning to information and acquire knowledge from it, while also turning people into a neurotic, hypersensitive online mob.