“Humans are the measure of all things. ‘More important for our purposes,” Mae said, opening the door, ‘is that now, with the tools available, humans can measure all things.'” p. 338
YouthRank was the project that concerned me the most regarding the complete panopticon the Circle are trying to create. Since humans can measure all things, the education system within the novel has turned into a simple accumulation of data that strikes the children of their individuality that is necessary in order to grow. It has made education completely impersonal and based exclusively on statistics. Despite the Circle’s quest to make knowledge accessible to anyone, YouthRank is extremely hierarchal. Children are given a specific ranking based on test scores, class rank, etc., taking “No Child Left Behind” to the next level. What’s even more troubling is how much influence the Circle has over the whole system. Even the Department of Education thinks the system is in better hands with the Circle, since they can measure anything. (Also found it interesting that fundraising for the school in Pakistan was done in smiles, but the grant the Circle received from the DoED was three billion dollars.) Combine YouthRank with the insertion of microchips in children thanks to TruYouth (Child Track) and the Circle has essentially made kids cyborgs which they can assert full surveillance and control.
Eggers communicates these ideas through very intentional word choices. His use of the word “tracked” brings to mind an aspect of our modern educational system that is often debated: the separation of students into different levels based on certain achievements. Tracking makes it sound like education is a very rigid process that can be applied using algorithms and analyzed using statistics. Children are the canvases, teachers are the paintbrushes, the Circle is the brilliant artist that brings it all together. Here though we see the problem with YouthRank and the idea of tracking, it is geared towards the brightest students. Having an objective number that the top students can point to will make it easier for them to get into better schools. However, the lower ranked students are left with a number and tons of evidence that leads to feelings of inferiority. The Circle presents no solutions to these problems, they only measure.
Eggers also makes persistent use of the word “achievement,” speaking to how in this new society learning has been gamified. The Circle has changed the end goal of education for the child. Children now see school as an objective, to obtain the highest ranking, to complete the mission of 30,000 words a day. What they lose in this change is an understanding of the inherent value of knowledge as a way to grow as a human being. This is a huge part of their development that is being taken away from them.
We see this in the two examples presented in the passage. When Marie and his 3-year-old son Michel introduce themselves to Mae, the boy chose to wave. Eggers want to stress his choice to wave rather than speak because it shows the impersonal communication that comes with this pervasive presence of technology. He is more occupied with the shiny thing on his wrist, watching the numbers reach his goal of hearing 30,000 words a day. His mom claims that the watch is important in, “recognizing, categorizing, and most crucially, counting those.” (p. 340) We have no idea though whether Michel is actually learning to apply these words.
The second case of Jennifer Batsuuri is even more impersonal, considering that she is all the way in Iowa. Her ranking of 1,396 out of 179,827 students in her state takes up an equal amount of the screen as her actual photo. We know her name, where she is from, and her ranking. Yet we know nothing about what makes her unique, her learning style, or anything that can’t be translated into data. These basic facts make her a small part in a large system that leaves no room for individual attention in the quest for true knowledge.
A fitting comparison can be made between the way YouthRank is shaping children and the translucent shark in the aquarium. The shark is able to process its prey with lightning speed and precision, digest it, and then excrete it. Only seconds later however is it oblivious to what it just ate. With YouthRank, children receive knowledge in a similar way. There is no use in finding a deeper understanding or a real world application. Information only needs to be processed and executed in order to move onto the next achievement. Education has become strictly functional.