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Reading The Circle was like looking in a mirror, and realizing that you’ve become the person you most hate. There was only one truth, and it was nauseating to uncover. We live in a world where a particular system has been set into motion, one that makes it not only easy to cede our most personal information, rights, and freedoms, but also one wherein it’s almost expected of us to do so, in order to be considered normal, social beings.
Empathy is apparent even after a child is born. The way babies try to mimic other human’s emotions, the way children easily reflect another’s suffering or joy, these are evidence of the fact that our connection with other humans are a large part of who we are. Unfortunately, that social need is being used as a façade, underneath which a flurry of our most personal information is being exchanged, made public, and made known. We are voluntarily giving up our information in return for appearing social. We tag who we are with, where we are located, can track our closest friends, take videos of what we are doing, update our emotional and mental statuses, share our finances, and so on and so forth.
Actually, it seems to me that transparency is imminent, which can be good, but which also paves the path for potentially surrendering our most basic freedoms. What was so unsettling about reading this book was not the realization that the extreme, dramatized world that Eggers created is so close to our reality, but rather, the realization that we may be too far gone. The gut-wrenching part is that we, ourselves, are voluntarily helping to create this world every day, and I’m not sure we can stop it.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from The Circle by Dave Eggers.
“First of all, I know it’s all people like you. And that’s what’s so scary. Individually you don’t know what you’re doing collectively.”
“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.”
“It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But 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.”
“And worse, you’re not doing anything interesting anymore. You’re not seeing anything, saying anything. The weird paradox is that you think you’re at the center of things, and that makes your opinions more valuable, but you yourself are becoming less vibrant. I bet you haven’t done anything offscreen in months. Have you?”
“Here though, there are no oppressors. No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!”
“Under the guise of having every voice heard, you create mob rule, a filterless society where secrets are crimes.”
“If things continue this way, there will be two societies – or at least I hope there will be two – the one you’re helping create, and an alternative to it. You and your ilk will live, willingly, joyfully, under constant surveillance, watching each other always, commenting on each other, voting and liking and disliking each other, smiling and frowning, and otherwise doing nothing much else.”
We all know what’s happening. There is an awareness of the ways in which social media is eating us alive, swallowing our very beings, trapping our souls onto little screens. But we allow for it anyway. The far reaching consequences, the approaching implications, all of these are being masked by the jubilee we feel for being seen, heard, and known. We are made to believe that significance is more important than being free.