I’m currently getting sucked into this (The Circle, by Dave Eggers) page-by-page, and I just came across an extremely relevant, interesting moment between the protagonist, Mae, and her ex-boyfriend Mercer.
Context: Mercer owns a business selling chandeliers. Mae sees him as a small town, average guy with little ambition; in contrast, Mae has recently started a new position at an innovative, high-tech empire called The Circle.
Mae has just brought up some things she’s read about Mercer and his business. He gets upset:
“A few months ago, you read something about me, and remember this? When I saw you, you were so standoffish.”
“That’s because they said you were using endangered species for your work!”
“But I’ve never done that.”
“Well, how am I supposed to know that?”
“You can ask me! Actually ask me. You know how weird that is, that you, my friend and ex-girlfriend, gets her information about me from some random person who’s never met me? And then I have to sit across from you and it’s like we’re looking at each other through this strange fog.”
“Will you promise me to stop doing this?”
“Stop reading online?”
“I don’t care what you read. But when you and I communicate, I want to do it directly. You write to me, I write to you. You ask me questions, and I answer them. You stop getting news about me from third parties.”
“But Mercer, you run a business. You need to participate online. These are your customers and this is how they express themselves, and how you know if you’re succeeding.”
“See, that’s not true, Mae. It’s not true. I know I’m successful if I sell chandeliers. If people order them, then I make them, and they pay me money for them. If they have something to say afterward, they can call me or write me. I mean, all this stuff you’re involved in, it’s all gossip. It’s people talking about each other behind their backs. That’s the vast majority of this social media, all these reviews, all these comments. Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication.”
I don’t know if I completely agree, but these concerns about how we relate and understand one another through technology are valid. I am pretty certain the book is just getting started with addressing this point, but it’s already bringing some interesting ideas to this well known discussion.
UPDATE: Not the writing, but the content of this book is becoming painful to read. It’s like Brave New World meets Smart House (Yes, that is a Disney Channel Original Movie reference).