I like social media. It’s nice to stay connected with my college friends who’ve moved around the country and keep in touch with family I don’t get to see often. I even get most of my news through social media. But the one thing that always leaves with a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to social media is the guilt. The guilt of how much time I spend perusing it. And why do I spend so much time? Because it’s getting smarter and it knows how to keep my attention. At least that’s my working theory.
The Circle, by Dave Eggers, takes the future of social media to its logical extreme. Where those controlling the social media, end up controlling us. It’s an interesting concept and it begs a lot of questions from readers. I at first thought it was a little absurd, but the more I read, the more I realized it’s a possibility. Not that I think it will actually happen, but I acknowledge that it could happen.
In the novel, a young woman, Mae, goes to work for a fictional high-tech firm similar to Google or Facebook. There she’s integrated into the culture of sharing and being part of a community. But not too soon after joining, readers begin to see the dark side of what social media could do to social expectations.
When Mae doesn’t ask enough co-workers to join her Circle account (aka Facebook page), she gets in trouble with HR. She’s accused of not being social and integrating into the community. Basically, she’s a team player. Ultimately, Mae caves for the guilt trip that is heaped upon her and begins a landslide of decisions that take her to the heart of social change due to social media.
The issues that Mae faces seem extreme and far-fetched at first. The longer I read, however, the more I felt that they weren’t too illogical. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do see the roots of Egger’s theory already growing in our current social media saturation. Facebook wants to show the world what I “like” on profile pages. Why does everyone need to know I like my college professors status? Facebook also keeps asking me what movies and tv shows I like. Why? So strangers can “get to know” me more? If they were really my friends they’d know what I liked. And many of my friends on Twitter are noticing that certain tweets aren’t even showing up in our feeds. We have to go to the profile to see them. And scarily, I realize that my news comes from Twitter. And who’s to say that Twitter isn’t censoring that news, or promoting news due to corporate sponsorship?
Not that I blame Facebook and Twitter. They didn’t force me to make an account, but I don’t have to give them what they ask for either. I like what Mae’s ex-boyfriend says in the book. That in many countries, people are censored and live in fear because dictators enslave the people. Yet in the West, we tend to enslave ourselves to things like social media. How many times have we wondered whether we’ve offended someone by not adding them as a friend on Facebook? Even if this someone is a person we haven’t seen, spoken to, or heard from, in years? Why should we feel guilty? Or how many times have we worried if we should just like a post or if we should like and comment on a post?
Eggers brings up some good questions and while I don’t think his answers will come to fruition, I do believe we should all be aware that social media has its own agenda and we don’t have to buy in. If we do, it’s on us.