Blog Post #2: Trading Surveillance for Service

“I helped them cover some of the cameras… They don’t want to be smiled upon, or frowned upon, or zinged. They want to be alone. And not watched. Surveillance shouldn’t be the tradeoff for any goddamn service we get.”
(p. 370)

This excerpt is from Mercer’s letter to Mae, which argues against the world that Mae and the Circle are creating. Mae’s parents were added to her health plan, but with this came the addition of SeeChange cameras to their home. Once these cameras were available, the Circle deemed them necessary to provide proper care. Mae’s parents were originally put on the Circle’s health insurance before SeeChange cameras were announced, implying that they were added later. The Circle’s oligopoly over different industries allows them to make drastic changes like this. Her parents do not want to be watched, but have no choice if they want to keep their policy.

I believe that Eggers, through this passage, encourages the reader to consider the implications of mass transparency, and compare his fictional world to the one we live in. Although he presents the Circle positively, I think that he expects the reader to challenge this, and not be okay with the level of control they have. The issue of surveillance that Eggers focuses on directly relates to us today, and brings concern to the similarities between the Circle’s vision and the reality of our world.

Eggers uses the characters Mae and Mercer to describe two opposing viewpoints. He presents Mae positively, who absorbs the ideology of the Circle. On the other side, Mercer, who opposes mass transparency, is viewed negatively. When he speaks he is dismissed by both Mae and her followers. I do not think that most people are okay with being under surveillance, so why is Mercer being shown as in the wrong? In taking this position, Eggers creates a world where the Circle’s vision is accepted. This is a scary thought, because it allows a company to know everything about you. This leads me to make a comparison to our current world, which I believe Eggers was going for. We may not support surveillance, but we also do very little to prevent it, and it is happening.

Eggers’ world seems extreme, but I don’t think it is that far from our own. This passage states a tradeoff between surveillance and service, something that we already participate in to some degree. More and more we share information about ourselves with websites that track us. Facebook, Google, and Amazon are all companies that many of us use daily, and we are allowing them to track us each time. They collect information on our online browsing and spending habits, allowing them to more accurately advertise, and lead to more purchases through them. We are also under the surveillance of our government to a worrying degree. The surveillance of the Circle is much more blatant, but this extreme example of Eggers reminds us that we face a similar situation.

The Circle continues to increase their control, such as adding cameras to Mae’s parents’ home. We are fairly complacent when it comes to the surveillance we currently are under, but what if that also continues to increase? It is not hard to imagine a situation where the government or a company, doing so ‘in the interest of the people,’ expands surveillance to near Circle levels. This excerpt from ‘The Circle’ creates a bridge between Eggers’ fiction and our reality, and brings into question the surveillance we already allow in exchange for services.

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2 Responses to Blog Post #2: Trading Surveillance for Service

  1. tanuvein says:

    I think it is very interesting how Eggers uses Mercer. He’s clearly a mouth piece for resistance to the Circle’s control, but I think part of what helps him operate so well is he’s the opposite of Francis. They operate in the same way we often see characters work in narratives by Faulkner. Though characters in their own right, and well developed, they serve as the two sides of the protagonist’s internal debate. This is very effective, I think, and as you say helps really impact upon us the difficulties of the question Eggers is asking.


  2. theterribles says:

    I think you’re very right – Eggers presents a world of extremes. I think that’s the only way to make his message clear though. He’s all but slapping us in the face with the panopticon, and it’s interesting that he, as you say, only presents it positively (with the exception of through the dialogue with Mercer and Mae’s parents). That’s one of my favorite aspects of the novel.


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