"The tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive."
Mercer is often used to directly address the main theme of the novel, the dangers of modernity and specifically of Mae's increasing reliance on connection and affirmation through the Circle. The fact that the Circle can calibrate itself so easy to an individual, catering groups specifically for one's interests and learning one's consumer views so that advertisements can be targeted more effectively, builds into a system that can be addictive. However, Mercer is not completely right as Mae has attempted to distance herself socially and online and has been chastised for it. Mae's addiction is comprised of social aspects, the desire to exist and be noticed, and the direct power the Circle has over her as employer and near-God.
“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of some ladder you don’t, right?”
This line references Mae's move from a job she didn't enjoy, working in utility in building 3B-East, to working at the Circle. It demonstrates the hopeful tone of the book's beginning, promising a simple ladder-climbing job rather than the whirlwind of "layers" Mae is soon swept up in.
"I want to be seen. I want proof I existed... Most people do. Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know - they'd trade it all to know they've been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”
The desire to exist and to have people acknowledge she exists is Mae's main motivation in the book. That she brings "most people" into her discussion means Eggers is directly asking readers to contemplate their own social media use and what they look to gain from it. However, Eggers satires Mae's (and potentially readers') idea that more sharing means a more solid existence using Mercer's comments that Mae has become less of a person in real life because of her commitment to her online persona.
“We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? Young people are creating ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. There will be no time to reflect, to sleep to cool.”
Again, Eggers uses Mercer to ask the reader to pause and reflect on the ideals espoused by the Circle and by Mae that all people should be able to know everything. He is speaking directly about the publication of information about Annie's family which foreshadows her breakdown (a result of her delicately calibrated brain being pushed too far), but also speaks to Mae's confusion over whether her problems come from knowing too little or too much.
"Increasingly, she found it difficult to be off-campus anyway. There were homeless people, and there were the attendant and assaulting smells, and there were machines that didn't work, and floors and seats that had not been cleaned, and there was, everywhere, the chaos of an orderless world."
Though Mae feels as if she is becoming more connected with the world by interacting with clients from across the US and sending smiles to Nepal whenever asked, she is actually becoming acclimated to the upper-class, gated life of the Circle. The Circle is expanding itself to the rest of the world to attempt to organize the chaos therein, but this may be less than benevolent or sensitive when done by employees who cannot face the real world after becoming reliant on all the Circle gives them (and forces them to take).
“SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT”
These three phrases are used in the presentation Mae and Eamon Bailey give to educate Circle employees on the wrongness of her illegal kayaking trip for a number of reasons and introduce her transparency. They are broad generalizations that sum up Eamon Bailey's idea that all information should and must be shared for a happy and effective world. However, the three, especially the childish-sounding "SHARING IS CARING" demonstrate the Circle's attempt to make everything into buzzwords and sweeping innovations without looking further into cases in which they may not apply.
“I think you think that sitting at your desk, frowning and smiling somehow makes you think you’re actually living some fascinating life. You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them. You look at pictures of Nepal, push a smile button, and you think that’s the same as going there. I mean, what would happen if you actually went? Your CircleJerk ratings or whatever-the-fuck would drop below an acceptable level!“
Mercer uses this quote to criticize Mae, who he feel is losing her spark in real life as she cultivates her online identity and connections. However, this quote asks a larger question - what is the worth of real experience versus virtual experience? What impact can one make on others and on oneself from afar?
“This was a new skill she'd acquired, the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene and even cheerful, while, in her skull, all was chaos.”
This quote functions both thematically and emotionally. It demonstrates the irony that more transparency has meant more hiding in many ways for Mae, having to mask her emotions and hold secret conversations more and more though she is supposedly more connected to the world than ever. On top of this, it reveals what pressure her work and relationships have put on her, causing her to hone her ability to hide her emotions, something with which many readers will likely be able to relate.
"In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good."
This quote is one that walks the line between wildly utopian and jarringly dystopian. Eamon Bailey suggests that when everyone is fully monitored, there will no longer be any crime or wrongdoing, and people will be relieved by this. However, bringing in the word "choice" the reader realizes that Bailey's ideal sounds much like a totalitarian regime in which the government gets to decide what choices are "good" or "bad" and thereby control every aspect of people's lives.
"She thought of the foxes that might be underneath her, the crabs that might be hiding under stones on the shore, the people in the cars that might be passing overhead, the men and women in the tugs and tankers, arriving to port or leaving, sighing, everyone having seen everything. She guessed at it all, what might live, moving purposefully or drifting aimlessly, in the deep water around her, but she didn't think too much about any of it. It was enough to be aware of the million permutations possible around her, and take comfort in knowing she would not, and really could not, know much at all."
This passage, surprisingly, refers to Mae, espousing a view in direct opposition to that she holds for much of the book. However, she feels this way while on Blue Island during her illegal kayaking trip - the last major event in the book before she discusses the harm of anyone being unable to know everything and then goes irreversibly transparent. The passage is soothing, and lacks the feverish urgency of the rest of the book in which she is swept up in data and attempts to keep the screaming tear within her, which she attributes to the lack of knowing that calms her in this quote, at bay.
The Circle Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Circle is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
We can see that there is very little privacy of information today. The news is delivered almost instantly through the internet. People willingly give out their personal information on social media. Our searches on the internet are followed by big...
Mae struggles with identity throughout the story. As a classic coming-of-age tale, Mae attempts to define her identity as an adult in the working world. However, the novel also addresses the pitfalls of attempting to create an online identity....