Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world's most powerful interet company. In this extract she meets Mercer, her ex-boyfriend.
[…] Mercer took a deep breath, and Mae knew he was about to give a speech. lf there was a podium before him, he'd be stepping up to it, removing his papers from his sportcoat packet. Two years of community college and he thought he was some kind of professor. […]
"All right, Mae, we have to change how we interact. Every time I see or hear from you, it's through this filter. You send me links, you quote someone talking about me, you say you saw a picture of me on someone's wall … lt's always this third-party assault. Even when I'm talking to you face-to-face you're telling me what some stranger thinks of me. It becomes like we're never alone. Every time I see you, there's a hundred other people in
the room. You're always looking at me through a hundred other people's eyes."
"Don't get dramatic about it."
"I just want to talk with you directly. Without you bringing in every stranger in the world who might have an opinion about me."
"I don't do that."
"You do, Mae. 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 l'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 I have to sit across from you and it's like we're looking at each other through this strange fog."
"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. lf 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. lt'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. And besides that, it's freaking dorky." Mae exhaled through her nostrils.
"I love it when you do that," he said. "Does that mean you have no answer?" [ … ]
"Everyone's a junk mailer. You know how I spend an hour every day? Thinking of ways
to unsubscribe to mailing lists without hurting anyone's feelings. There's this new needi-ness - it pervades everything." He sighed as if he'd made some very important points. "It's just a very different planet."
"It's different in a good way," Mae said. "There are a thousand ways it's better, and I can list them. But I can't help it if you're not social. I mean, your social needs are so minimal-"
"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. lt 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 push-ing Same thing. Endless empty calories. but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it's equally addiclive."
"And it's eliminated my ability to just talk to you." He was still talking. "I mean, I can't
send you emails, because you immediately Forward them to someone eise. I can't send you a photo, bccause you post it on your own profile. And meanwhile, your company is scanning all of our messages for information they can monetize. Don't you think this is insane?"
Mae looked at his fat face. He was thickening everywhere. He seemed to be developing
jowls. Could a man of twenty-five already have jowls? No wonder snack food was on his mind.
"Thanks for helping my dad," she said, and went inside and waited for him to leave. lt took him a few minutes to do so - he insisted on finishing his beer - but soon enough he did, and Mae turned out the downstaris lights, went to her old room and dropped herself
into her bed. She checked her messages, found a few dozen that needed her attention, and then, because it was only nine o'clock and her parents were already asleep, she logged on to her Circle account and handled a few dozen queries, feeling, with every fulfilled request, that she was cleaning the Mercer off of herself. By midnight she felt reborn. [ … ]
Aus: Dave Eggers, The Circle (excerpt),
copyright © 2013 by David Eggers.