I spend a lot of time thinking about social media; not the “what” and the “how,” so much as the “why.”
- Why do we enjoy living online so much, sharing our innermost thoughts with people who are sometimes total strangers?
- Why are we drawn to quantify, score and rank so many aspects of our lives and then share that data publicly?
- Why is the opinion and the activities of others so hypnotic and addictive to us?
We want to know how the story ends.
In The Circle, Eggers proposes a succinct and simple answer to these questions.
The Achilles’ heel of humans is we hate “not knowing” – not knowing what the future will hold, where exactly we fit in that future and, ultimately, when that future will come to an end and we die.
And we will go to extraordinary lengths to make that discomfort of “not knowing” go away.
- We surround ourselves with stories, which enact an endless array of scenarios that have tidy endings with concrete resolutions.
- We obsess over love — finding it, making it, keeping it, memorializing it — and count on it to serve as the tether to guide us through our lives.
- We live each day as if it were just any old day; never as if it were our last. (Even while, at the same time, we’re declaring Carpe Diem! or YOLO!)
- We seek answers from technology, social media, and the “quantified self” because those things calm our subjective fear of not knowing with the objective comfort of data.
Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft.
In The Circle, Eggers takes avoiding the “not knowing,” puts it under the microscope and turns the question of why we do it into an allegory for our modern society.
Just how far will we go to make the discomfort of not knowing go away? Even if we take our quest to the very edge of what is technologically possible, helpful and sane, will that discomfort still be waiting for us just beneath the surface when we arrive?
Is being comfortable a goal we as a society are willing to pursue at all costs?
Eggers proposes that it is…
Most people would trade everything they know, every one they know — they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen and acknowledged, that they might be remembered. We all know we die. 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 point is to ask yourself if the utopian, transparent future Eggers portrays is the stuff of your dreams or your nightmares, because some of these changes are already happening.
And that is an uncomfortable question we must all answer for ourselves.