“The Circle”: Spectating vs Participating

“…my problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. You look at your paper brochure, and that’s where it ends. It ends with you. Like you’re the only one who matters. But think if you’d been documenting. If you’d been using a tool that would help confirm the identity of whatever birds you saw, then anyone can benefit-naturalists, students, historians, the Coast Guard. Everyone can know, then, what birds were on the bay that day. It’s just maddening, thinking of how much knowledge is lost every day through this kind of shortsightedness.” (Eggers 187)

While reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle, there are several moments which have caught my attention, but this one moment was especially interesting. It was during Mae’s “interrogation” after her leave of absence to check on her father. The conversation itself ranges from what Mae should be doing with her free time to how and with whom she should spend it. It is rather unnerving, and it is delivered purposefully in a way to give the audience a negative impression about how the Circle views information, even though the arguments are delivered positively. The focus of this scene, as well as of the whole section, is the idea that nothing is worth doing that does not contribute to the lives of others. Nothing which contributes to only you is worth doing, which is an unsettling prospect.

This segment takes one of the biggest media forms in history, paper (and by extension books and the like), and demeans it, criticizing it because it supposedly signals the end of a communication between people, and compared with technological media forms like Facebook or Twitter (Zing in the novel), that would seem to be the case. However, I would argue the opposite is the case, at least to a degree, dealing with the idea of engaging vs spectating an event.

The best example I can name for this encompasses my personal experiences at baseball games as a kid. When I was very little, I really liked the idea of keeping score on a scorecard. It’s the ultimate memento for an amazing win, especially considering there were so few for the Pirates at that time. You could look back later and show others who weren’t there. But, to keep score, you have to be diligent and quick. You can’t take an inning off or misread a play. It turns out that you can hardly enjoy the game because you’re too busy writing what happened. I also rarely ever looked or shared old scorecards, making it less and less worthwhile. I found that I enjoyed games far more (and still do) now that I don’t even bother keeping score. I’ve found myself in a similar situation when visiting new places. If I bother to take a thousand pictures, I lose the time I have to spend actually enjoying the view. The same sort of thing applies to social media. By posting pictures, tweeting status updates, and so on, you distance yourself from the event of which you are supposedly a part. You are more your own camera man than a participant. You might as well be not be there at all.

This is what the Circle wants. They want cameras, not people, because they want data, not information. Mae is heavily criticized for not snapping pictures or posting statuses so that others could enjoy her actions. The Circle wants you to read things on your phone or computer because you can forward that information to others. The Circle does not want you to read.

Earlier I said that this Josiah’s rant on was inaccurate. I say this because, when you read a book, watch a film, go kayaking, communication doesn’t actually end with you. The conversation is not over, because now you have that information; that experience. If I read a book, like The Circle, that knowledge stays with me. I can think and interpret that data and make opinions. It is these interpretations that makes knowledge worth expressing. Data without interpretation is worthless. If I say, “Reading The Circle, up to page 305” on Facebook, I have not engaged others. I have not continued a conversation; I haven’t even started one. Simply stating that you are kayaking takes away from your time kayaking. It is much harder to enjoy a concert when you’re concerned if your camera has a clear picture. If I read a book or go to a concert and engage with others what I thought of it, after I finish reading it, after I finish engaging with the book, I can start a conversation worth participating in. Rather than document that there is something worth conversing about, isn’t it just better to have the conversation?

This is what Eggers is saying. Through this roundabout method, he is actively demonstrating this very point; by stressing what the Circlers are saying, guilting Mae into taking blame, the audience is made to feel uncomfortable about such actions. The Circle is implying that interpretation and experience are unimportant because any benefits are solitary, because they do not benefit everyone. However, if interpretations and experiences are removed, society as a whole diminishes, as we all become spectators instead of participants, with nothing ventured and nothing gained.

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3 Responses to “The Circle”: Spectating vs Participating

  1. vespoli57 says:

    The point you make about the technological aspect of the social events getting in the way of the actual events that people are participating in is completely valid. Your other point though, about posted a status and it not leading anywhere does have some flaws. I think what Eggers is trying to say about technology is that when we tweet or use Facebook or any sort of social media we are connecting ourselves with every person we have ever come into contact with, and the emphasis become more placed on how many people have commented on what I’m saying rather than actually starting a conversation on whatever you had posted. The information that is being shared is not as important as how the information is being responded to by the public and that is Eggers whole premise for the rest of the novel. How will the people of the world respond to limitless information?


  2. amd197 says:

    I completely agree with you on the fact that people do need take more time to actually take in a moment for themselves rather than focusing on capturing the moment for all of social media to see. When you put a camera or a phone in front of your view to take a picture or film the moment, there is some true beauty that is lost and missed. I do agree that information and experiences should be shared and should be accessible to those who can’t necessarily experience those moments, but I feel that sometimes people do need to be “selfish” and forget about sharing their moment with everyone else and just allow themselves to get lost in the moment at hand. You capture that point very well with your talk about the scorecards. That is a very interesting experience.


  3. danwillisdan says:

    This is something I have talked about with my friends a lot! I think that a lot of people right now are so ready to interpret their experience that they often interpret it AS they experience it. They attach sentimental value and useful meaning to moments as they happen instead of letting their memories whittle away the extraneous details and produce something like that moment’s essence. Interpret is not even the right word, it’s really more like ‘enframing’. Not as like, a cheap, flashy tie-in to something else we’ve read for this class. Like, with the example of music, it’s just like music isn’t allowed to be meaningful in its own right anymore, it has to soundtrack your life. Its exactly an issue of spectating and participating. We decide that concerts are unforgettable experiences the second we go out into the parking lot because the music means a lot to us, not because the music actually means anything on its own terms, within its own universe.


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