Saturday, September 20, 2014
The Circle: "WE LIKE YOU SO MUCH AND WANT TO KNOW YOU BETTER"
The Circle Quotes
The Circle Quotes (showing 1-30 of 43)
“You know how you finish a bag of chips and you hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of some ladder you don’t, right?” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“Listen, twenty years ago, it wasn’t so cool to have a calculator watch, right? And spending all day inside playing with your calculator watch sent a clear message that you weren’t doing so well socially. And judgments like ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ and ‘smiles’ and ‘frowns’ were limited to junior high. Someone would write a note and it would say, ‘Do you like unicorns and stickers?’ and you’d say, ‘Yeah, I like unicorns and stickers! Smile!’ That kind of thing. But now it’s not just junior high kids who do it, it’s everyone, and it seems to me sometimes I’ve entered some inverted zone, some mirror world where the dorkiest shit in the world is completely dominant. The world has dorkified itself.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know- they'd trade it all to know they've been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. 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.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“You sit at a desk twelve hours a day and you have nothing to show for it except some numbers that won't exist or be remembered in a week. You're leaving no evidence you lived. There's no proof.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“Every time my brain parks the car neatly in the driveway, my mouth drives through the back of the garage.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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!” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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. And besides that, it's fucking dorky.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“It occurred to her, in a moment of sudden clarity, that what had always caused her anxiety, or stress, or worry, was not any one force, nothing independent and external- it wasn't danger to herself or the constant calamity of other people and their problems. It was internal: it was subjective: it was not knowing.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“It was not knowing that was the seed of madness, loneliness, suspicion, fear.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“(...) my problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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 else. I can’t send you a photo, because 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?” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“But I'm a believer in the perfectibility of human beings. I think we can be better. I think we can be perfect or near to it. And when we become our best selves, the possibilities are endless. We can solve any problem. We can cure any disease, end hunger, everything, because we won't be dragged down by all our weaknesses, our petty secrets, our hoarding of information and knowledge. We will finally realize our potential.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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.” Mae’s mind churned through a half-dozen Circle tools she knew would help his business, but Mercer was an underachiever. An underachiever who somehow managed to be smug about it. “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. And besides that, it’s fucking dorky.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“. . . 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.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“The flash opened up into something larger, an even more blasphemous notion that her brain contained too much. That the volume of information, of data, of judgments, of measurements, was too much, and there were too many people, and too many desires of too many people, and too many opinions of too many people, and too much pain from too many people, and having all of it constantly collated, collected, added and aggregated, and presented to her as if that all made it tidier and more manageable--it was too much.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“It was as if, for a moment, she thought Mae was one kind of person, but now, knowing she was another, she could part with her, she could give her back to the world.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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?” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“the waterfall, and the tiki torches, all of these things the stuff of vacations and dreams and impossible to maintain, but then she knew—and this is what was keeping her up, her head careening with something like a toddler’s joy—that she would be going back to that place, the place where all these things happened. She was welcome there, employed there.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“That the volume of information, of data, of judgements, of measurements, was too much, and there were too many people, and too many desires of too many people, and too many opinions of too many people, and too much pain from too many people, and having all of it constantly collated, collected, added and aggregated, and presented to her as if that all made it tidier and more manageable--it was too much.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“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.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would have been lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we're losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn't have to be that way.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
“Likewise, everyone at the Circle there had been chosen, and thus the gene pool was extraordinary, the brainpower phenomenal. It was a place where everyone endeavored, constantly and passionately, to improve themselves, each other, share their knowledge, disseminate it to the world.” ― Dave Eggers, The Circle
Dave Eggers is the author of eight books, including, most recently, ‘‘The Circle,’’ to be published next month, from which this has been adapted. He is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s.
September 22, 2013
An audio version of this excerpt, as read by the actor Dion Graham.
My God, Mae thought. It’s heaven.
The campus was vast and rambling, wild with Pacific color, and yet the smallest detail had been carefully considered, shaped by the most eloquent hands. On land that had once been a shipyard, then a drive-in movie theater, then a flea market, then blight, there were now soft green hills and a Calatrava fountain. And a picnic area, with tables arranged in concentric circles. And tennis courts, clay and grass. And a volleyball court, where tiny children from the company’s day care center were running, squealing, weaving like water. Amid all this was a workplace, too, 400 acres of brushed steel and glass on the headquarters of the most influential company in the world. The sky above was spotless and blue.
Mae was making her way through all of this, walking from the parking lot to the main hall, trying to look as if she belonged. The walkway wound around lemon and orange trees, and its quiet red cobblestones were replaced, occasionally, by tiles with imploring messages of inspiration. “Dream,” one said, the word laser-cut into the stone. “Participate,” said another. There were dozens: “Find Community.” “Innovate.” “Imagine.” She just missed stepping on the hand of a young man in a gray jumpsuit; he was installing a new stone that said, “Breathe.”
On a sunny Monday in June, Mae stopped in front of the main door, standing below the logo etched into the glass above. Though the company was less than six years old, its name and logo — a circle surrounding a knitted grid, with a small ‘c’ in the center — were already among the best known in the world. There were more than 10,000 employees on this, the main campus, but the Circle had offices all over the globe and was hiring hundreds of gifted young minds every week. It had been voted the world’s most admired company four years running.
Mae wouldn’t have thought she had a chance to work at such a place but for Annie. Annie was two years older, and they roomed together for three semesters in college, in an ugly building made habitable through their extraordinary bond, something like friends, something like sisters — or cousins who wished they were siblings and would have reason never to be apart. Their first month living together, Mae broke her jaw one twilight, after fainting, flu-ridden and underfed, during finals. Annie had told her to stay in bed, but Mae went to the Kwik Trip for caffeine and woke up on the sidewalk, under a tree. Annie took her to the hospital and waited as they wired her jaw and then stayed with Mae, sleeping next to her, in a wooden chair, all night, and then at home, for days, had fed Mae through a straw. It was a fierce level of commitment and competence that Mae had never seen from someone her age or near her age, and Mae was thereafter loyal in a way she’d never known she could be.
While Mae was still at Carleton, meandering between majors, from art history to marketing to psychology — getting her degree in psych with no plans to go further in the field — Annie had graduated, gotten her M.B.A. from Stanford and was recruited everywhere, but particularly at the Circle, and had landed here days after graduation. Now she had some lofty title — Director of Ensuring the Future, Annie joked — and had urged Mae to apply for a job. Mae did so, and though Annie insisted that she pulled no strings, Mae was sure Annie had, and she felt indebted beyond all measure. A million people, a billion, wanted to be where Mae was at this moment, entering this atrium, 30 feet high and shot through with California light, on her first day working for the only company that really mattered at all.
She pushed open the heavy door. The front hall was as long as a parade, as tall as a cathedral. There were offices everywhere above, four floors high on either side, every wall made of glass. Briefly dizzy, she looked downward, and in the immaculate glossy floor, she saw her own face reflected, looking worried. She shaped her mouth into a smile, feeling a presence behind her.
“You must be Mae.”
Mae turned to find a beautiful young head floating atop a scarlet scarf and white silk blouse. “I’m Renata. Annie asked me to come get you and take you to the Renaissance.”
‘A million people, a billion, wanted to be where Mae was at this moment, entering this atrium, 30 feet high and shot through with California light, on her first day working for the only company that really mattered at all.’
Mae knew the company’s practice of naming each portion of the campus after a historical era; it was a way to make an enormous place less impersonal, less corporate. It beat Building 3B-East, where Mae had last worked. Her final day at the public utility in her hometown had been only three weeks ago — they were stupefied when she gave notice — but already it seemed impossible she’d wasted so much of her life there. Good riddance, Mae thought, to that gulag and all it represented.
Renata led Mae into a large room the size of a basketball court, where there were 20 desks, all different, all carved from blond wood into desktops of organic shapes. They were separated by dividers of glass and arranged in groups of five, like petals on a flower. None were occupied.
“You’re the first here,” Renata said, “but you won’t be alone for long. Each new Customer Experience area tends to fill pretty quickly. And you’re not far from all the more senior people.” And here she swept her arm around, indicating about a dozen offices surrounding the open space. Each was walled in glass, revealing the occupants — all of the supervisors slightly older, a bit more polished, preternaturally calm.
“The architects really like glass, eh?” Mae said.
Renata stopped, furrowed her brow and thought on this notion. She put a strand of hair behind her ear and said: “I think so. I can check. But first we should explain the setup and what to expect on your first real day.”
Renata explained the features of the desk and chair and screen, all of which had been ergonomically perfected and could be adjusted for those who wanted to work standing up.
“You can set your stuff down and adjust your chair, and — oh, looks like you have a welcoming committee. Don’t get up,” she said.
Mae followed Renata’s eye line and saw a trio of young faces making their way to her. A balding man in his late 20s extended his hand. Mae shook it, and he put an oversize tablet on the desk in front of her.
“Hi, Mae, I’m Rob from payroll. Bet you’re glad to see me.” He smiled, then laughed heartily, as if he’d just realized anew the humor in his repartee. “O.K.,” he said, “we’ve filled out everything here. There’s just these three places you need to sign.” He pointed to the screen, where yellow rectangles flashed, asking for her signature.
When she was finished, Rob took the tablet and smiled with great warmth. “Thank you, and welcome aboard.”
He turned and left and was replaced by a thin man in a red zippered shirt. He shook Mae’s hand.
“Hi, I’m Jon. I e-mailed you yesterday about bringing your birth certificate?” His hands came together, as if in prayer.
Mae retrieved the certificate from her bag, and Jon’s eyes lit up. “You brought it!” He clapped quickly, silently, and revealed a mouth of tiny teeth. “No one remembers the first time. You’re my new favorite.”
He took the certificate, promising to return it after he made a copy.
Behind him was a fourth staff member, this one a beatific-looking man of about 35, by far the oldest person Mae had met that day.
“Hi, Mae. I’m Brandon, and I have the honor of giving you your new tablet.” He was holding a gleaming object, translucent, its edges as black and smooth as obsidian.
Mae was stunned. “These haven’t been released yet.”
Brandon smiled broadly. “It’s four times as fast as its predecessor. I’ve been playing with mine all week. It’s very cool.”
“And I get one?”
“You already did,” he said. “It’s got your name on it.”
He turned the tablet on its side to reveal that it had been inscribed with Mae’s full name: Maebelline Renner Holland.
He handed it to her. It was the weight of a paper plate.
“Now, I’m assuming you have your own tablet?”
“I do. Well, a laptop anyway.”
“Laptop. Wow. Can I see it?”
Mae pointed to it. “Now I feel like I should chuck it in the trash.”
Brandon paled. “No, don’t do that! At least recycle it.”
“Oh, no. I was just kidding,” Mae said. “I’ll probably hold on to it. I have all my stuff on it.”
“Good segue, Mae! That’s what I’m here to do next. We should transfer all your stuff to the new tablet.”
“Oh. I can do that.”
“Would you grant me the honor? I’ve trained all my life for this very moment.”
Mae laughed and pushed her chair out of the way. Brandon knelt next to her desk and put the new tablet next to her laptop. In minutes he had transferred all her information and accounts.
“O.K. Now let’s do the same with your phone. Ta-da.” He reached into his bag and unveiled a new phone, a few significant steps ahead of her own. Like the tablet, it had her name already engraved on the back. He set both phones, new and old, on the desk next to each other and quickly, wirelessly, transferred everything within from one to the other.
“O.K. Now everything you had on your other phone and on your hard drive is accessible here on the tablet and your new phone, but it’s also backed up in the cloud and on our servers. Your music, your photos, your messages, your data. It can never be lost. You lose this tablet or phone, it takes exactly six minutes to retrieve all your stuff and dump it on the next one. It’ll be here next year and next century.”
They both looked at the new devices.
“I wish our system existed 10 years ago,” he said. “I fried two different hard drives back then, and it’s like having your house burn down with all your belongings inside.”
“Thank you,” Mae said.
‘As you know, it’s not all about work here. Or rather, it’s not all about ratings and approvals and such. You’re not just some cog in a machine.’
“No sweat,” Brandon said, standing up. “And this way we can send you updates for the software, the apps, everything, and know you’re current. Everyone in CE has to be on the same version of any given software, as you can imagine. I think that’s it. . . .” he said, backing away. Then he stopped. “Oh, and it’s crucial that all company devices are password-protected, so I gave you one. It’s written here.” He handed her a slip of paper bearing a series of digits and numerals and obscure typographical symbols. “I hope you can memorize it today and then throw this away. Deal?”
“We can change the password later if you want. Just let me know, and I’ll give you a new one. They’re all computer-generated.”
Mae took her old laptop and moved it toward her bag.
Brandon looked at it as if it were an invasive species. “You want me to get rid of it? We do it in a very environmentally friendly way.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she said, “I want to say goodbye.”
Brandon smiled indulgently. “Oh. I get it. O.K. then.”
He gave a bow and left, and behind him she saw Annie. She was holding her knuckle up to her chin, tilting her head. “There’s my little girl, grown up at last!”
After lunch and an elaborate tour of campus, Annie deposited Mae back at her desk, where a man was sitting, his posture rounded and serene.
“Jared, you lucky son of a bitch,” Annie said.
The man turned, his face unlined. His hands rested patiently and unmoving in his ample lap. He smiled at Annie. “Hello, Annie,” he said, closing his eyes.
“Jared will be doing your training, and he’ll be your main contact here at CE. Dan’s the head of the department, as you know, but your direct report is Jared. Isn’t he wonderful?” Mae didn’t know what to say, and Annie didn’t care. This was how she always talked, always had. “Jared, you ready to get Mae started?”
“I am,” he said. “Hi, Mae.” He stood and extended his hand, and Mae shook it. It was soft, like a cherub’s.
“It’s an honor.”
“Hell, yeah, it is, Jared,” Annie said, squeezing Mae’s shoulder. “See you after.”
Annie left, and Jared retrieved another chair, offering it to Mae. They sat side by side, facing the three screens set up on her desk. “So, training time. You feel ready?”
“You need coffee or tea or anything?”
Mae shook her head. “I’m all set.”
“O.K. As you know, for now you’re just doing straight-up customer maintenance for the smaller advertisers. They send a message to Customer Experience, and it gets routed to one of us. Random at first, but once you start working with a customer, that customer will continue to be routed to you, for the sake of continuity. When you get the query, you figure out the answer, you write them back. That’s the core of it. Simple enough in theory. So far so good?”
Mae nodded, and he went through the 20 most common requests and questions and showed her a menu of boilerplate responses.
“Now, that doesn’t mean you just paste the answer in and send it back. You should make each response personal, specific. You’re a person, and they’re a person, so you shouldn’t be imitating a robot, and you shouldn’t treat them like they’re robots. Know what I mean? No robots work here. We never want the customer to think they’re dealing with a faceless entity, so you should always be sure to inject humanity into the process. That sound good?”
Mae nodded. She liked that: No robots work here.
“You’d be surprised at how many of the questions you’ll be able to field right away,” Jared continued.
“Now let’s say you’ve answered a client’s question, and they seem satisfied. That’s when you send them the survey, and they fill it out. It’s a set of quick questions about your service, their overall experience, and at the end they’re asked to rate it. They send the questions back, and then you immediately know how you did. The rating pops up here.”
He pointed to the corner of her screen, where there was a large number, 99, and below, a grid of other numbers.
“The big 99 is the last customer’s rating. The customer will rate you on a scale of, guess what, 1 to 100. That most recent rating will pop up here, and then that’ll be averaged with the rest of the day’s scores in this next box. That way you’ll always know how you’re doing, recently and generally. Now, I know what you’re thinking, O.K., Jared, what kind of average is average? And the answer is: If it dips below 95, then you might step back and see what you can do better. Maybe you bring the average up with the next customer, maybe you see how you might improve. Now, if it’s consistently slumping, then you might have a meet-up with me to go over some best practices. Sound good?”
“It does,” Mae said. “I really appreciate this, Jared. In my previous job, I was in the dark about where I stood until, like, quarterly evaluations. It was nerve-racking.”
“Well, you’ll love this then. If they fill out the survey and do the rating, and pretty much everyone does, then you send them the next message. This one thanks them for filling out the survey, and it encourages them to tell a friend about the experience they just had with you, using the Circle’s social-media tools. Ideally they at least zing it or give you a smile or a frown. In a best-case scenario, you might get them to zing about it or write about it on another customer-service site. We get people out there zinging about their great customer-service experiences with you, then everyone wins. Got it?”
“O.K., let’s do a live one. Ready?”
Mae wasn’t, but couldn’t say that. “Ready.”
Jared brought up a customer request and, after reading it, let out a quick snort to indicate its elementary nature. He chose a boilerplate answer, adapted it a bit, told the customer to have a fantastic day. The exchange took about 90 seconds, and two minutes later, the screen confirmed the customer had answered the questionnaire and a score appeared: 99. Jared sat back and turned to Mae.
“Now, that’s good, right? Ninety-nine is good. But I can’t help wondering why it wasn’t a 100. Let’s look.” He opened up the customer’s survey answers and scanned through. “Well, there’s no clear sign that any part of their experience was unsatisfactory. Now, most companies would say, Wow, 99 out of 100 points, that’s nearly perfect. And I say, Exactly: it’s nearly perfect, sure. But at the Circle, that missing point nags at us. So let’s see if we can get to the bottom of it. Here’s a follow-up that we send out.”
He showed her another survey, this one shorter, asking the customer what about their interaction could have been improved and how. They sent it to the customer.
Seconds later, the response came back. “All was good. Sorry. Should have given you a 100. Thanks!!”
Jared tapped the screen and gave a thumbs-up to Mae.
“O.K. Sometimes you might just encounter someone who isn’t really sensitive to the metrics. So it’s good to ask them, to make sure you get that clarity. Now we’re back to a perfect score. You ready to do your own?”
They downloaded another customer query, and Mae scrolled through the boilerplates, found the appropriate answer, personalized it and sent it back. When the survey came back, her rating was 100.
Jared seemed briefly taken aback. “First one you get 100, wow,” he said. “I knew you’d be good.” He had lost his footing but now regained it. “O.K., I think you’re ready to take on some more. Now, a couple more things. Let’s turn on your second screen.” He turned on a smaller screen to her right. “This one is for intraoffice messaging. All Circlers send messages out through your main feed, but they appear on the second screen. This is to make clear the importance of the messages and to help you delineate which is which. From time to time you’ll see messages from me over here, just checking in or with some adjustment or news. O.K.?”
“Now, remember to bounce any stumpers to me, and if you need to talk, you can shoot me a message or stop by. I’m just down the hall. I expect you to be in touch pretty frequently for the first few weeks, one way or the other. That’s how I know you’re learning. So don’t hesitate.”
“Great. Now, are you ready to get started-started? That means I open the chute. And when I release this deluge on you, you’ll have your own queue, and you’ll be inundated for the next two hours, till lunch. You ready?”
Mae felt she was. “I am.”
The deluge lasted a month. It was that long before Mae felt she could breathe. The days were long, and there was no rest, and lunch was almost impossible. But she felt essential and valued, and the work was exhilarating. She was in touch with people all over the globe and knew she could answer any Circle question in minutes.
It was late in the afternoon one Monday when Dan, her team leader, sent a message: “Great day so far! Meet at 5?”
Mae arrived at Dan’s door. He stood, guided her to a chair and closed the door. He sat behind his desk and tapped his tablet screen.
“97. 98. 98. 98. Wonderful aggregates this week.”
“Thank you,” Mae said.
Dan’s earnest eyes probed into hers. “Mae, have you had a good experience so far here at the Circle?”
“Absolutely,” she said.
His face brightened. “Good. Good. That’s very good news. I asked you to come in just to, well, to square that with your social behavior here and the message it’s sending. And I think I might have failed to communicate everything about this job properly. So I blame myself if I haven’t done that well enough.”
“No. No. I know you did a good job. I’m sure you did.”
“Well, thank you, Mae. I appreciate that. But what we need to talk about is the, well . . . Let me put it another way. You know this isn’t what you might call a clock-in, clock-out type of company. Does that make sense?”
“Oh, I know. I wouldn’t . . . Did I imply that I thought? . . .”
“No, no. You didn’t imply anything. We just haven’t seen you around so much after 5 o’clock, so we wondered if you were, you know, anxious to leave.”
“No, no. Do you need me to stay later?”
Dan winced. “No, it’s not that. You handle your workload just fine. But we missed you at the Industrial Revolution party last Thursday night, which was a pretty crucial team-building event, centered on a product we’re all very proud of. You missed at least two newbie events, and at the circus the other night, it looked like you couldn’t wait to leave. I think you were out of there in 20 minutes. Those things might be understandable if your Participation Rank wasn’t so low. Do you know what it is?”
Mae guessed it was in the 8,000-range. “I think so.”
“You think so,” Dan said, glancing at his screen. “It’s 9,101. Does that sound right?” It had dropped in the last hour, since she last checked.
“It must be,” Mae said.
Dan clucked and nodded. “So it’s been sort of adding up and, well, we started worrying that we were somehow driving you away.”
“No, no! It’s nothing like that.”
“O.K., let’s focus on Friday at 5:30. We had a gathering in the Old West, where your friend Annie works. It was semi-mandatory, it was very fun, but you weren’t there. You were off-campus, which really confuses me. It’s as if you were fleeing.”
Mae’s mind raced. Why hadn’t she gone? Where was she? How had she missed a semi-mandatory event? The notice must have been buried deep in her social feed.
“God, I’m sorry,” she said, remembering now. “My dad had a seizure — he has MS, so it happens sometimes. It ended up being minor, but I didn’t know that until I got home.”
Dan looked at his glass desk and, with a tissue, tried to remove a smudge. Satisfied, he looked up.
“That’s very understandable. To spend time with your parents, believe me, I think that is very, very cool. I just want to emphasize the community aspect of this job. We see this workplace as a community, and every person who works here is part of that community. To that end, I wonder if you’d be willing to stay a few extra minutes, to talk to Josiah and Denise. I think you remember them from your orientation? They’d love to just extend the conversation we’re having and go a bit deeper. Does that sound good?”
“You don’t have to rush home or . . . ?”
“No. I’m all yours.”
“Good. Good. Here they are now.”
Mae turned to see Denise and Josiah, both waving, on the other side of Dan’s glass door. She followed them down the hall and into a conference room Mae had passed many times. The room was oval, the walls glass.
“Let’s have you sit here,” Denise said, indicating a high-backed leather chair. She and Josiah sat across from her, arranging their tablets and adjusting their seats, as if settling in for a task that might take hours and would almost surely be unpleasant. Mae tried to smile.
‘We had a gathering in the Old West, where your friend Annie works. It was semi-mandatory, it was very fun, but you weren’t there. You were off-campus, which really confuses me. It’s as if you were fleeing.’
“As you know,” Denise said, putting a strand of her dark hair behind her ear, “we’re from H.R., and this is just a regular check-in we do with new community members here. We do them somewhere in the company every day, and we’re especially glad to see you again. You’re such an enigma.”
“You are. It’s been years since I can remember someone joining who was so, you know, shrouded in mystery. So I thought maybe we would start by talking a little about you, and after we get to know more about you, we can talk about ways that you might feel comfortable joining in a bit more in terms of the community. Does that sound good?”
Mae nodded. “Of course.” She looked to Josiah, who hadn’t said a word yet but who was working furiously on his tablet, typing and swiping.
“Good. I thought we would start by saying that we really like you,” Denise said.
Josiah finally looked up and spoke, his blue eyes bright. “We do,” he said. “We really do. You are a supercool member of the team. Everyone thinks so.”
“Thank you,” Mae said, feeling sure that she was being fired.
“And your work here has been exemplary,” Denise continued. “Your ratings have been averaging 97, and that’s excellent, especially for your first month. Do you feel satisfied with your performance?”
Mae guessed at the right answer. “I do.”
Denise nodded. “Good. But as you know, it’s not all about work here. Or rather, it’s not all about ratings and approvals and such. You’re not just some cog in a machine.”
Josiah was shaking his head vigorously. “We consider you a full, knowable human being of unlimited potential. And a crucial member of the community.”
“Thank you,” Mae said, now less sure she was being let go.
Denise’s smile was pained. “But then there’s your absence at most of the weekend and evening events, all of which are of course totally optional, and your corresponding PartiRank, which is surprisingly low for a newbie. Let’s start with this past weekend. We know you left campus at 5:42 p.m. on Friday, and you got back here 8:46 a.m. on Monday.”
“Was there work on the weekend?” Mae searched her memory, grabbing desperately. “Did I miss something?”
“No, no, no,” Denise said. “There wasn’t, you know, mandatory work here on the weekend. That’s not to say that there weren’t thousands of people here Saturday and Sunday, enjoying the campus, participating in a hundred different activities.”
“I know, I know. But I was home. My dad was sick, and I went back to help out.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Josiah said. “Was this related to his MS?”
“It was.” Josiah made a sympathetic face, and Denise leaned forward. “But see, here’s where it gets especially confusing. We don’t know anything about this episode. Did you reach out to any Circlers during this crisis? You know that there are four groups on campus for staffers dealing with MS? Two of them are for children of MS sufferers. Have you sought out one of these groups?”
“No, not yet. I’ve been meaning to.”
“O.K.,” Denise said. “Let’s table that thought for a second, because that’s instructive, the fact that you were aware of the groups but didn’t seek them out. Surely you acknowledge the benefit of sharing information about this disease?”
“And that sharing with other young people whose parents suffer from the disease — do you see the benefit in this?”
“For example, when you heard your dad had a seizure, you drove, what, a hundred miles or so, and never once during that drive did you try to glean any information from the InnerCirclers or from the larger OuterCircle. Do you see that as an opportunity wasted?”
“Now I do, absolutely. I was just upset, and worried, and I was driving like a maniac. I wasn’t very present.”
‘My problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. ... It ends with you. Like you’re the only one who matters.’
Denise raised a finger. “Ah, present. That is a wonderful word. I’m glad you used it. Do you consider yourself usually present?”
“I try to be.”
Josiah smiled and tapped a flurry into his tablet.
“But the opposite of present would be what?” Denise asked.
“Yes. Absent. Let’s put a pin in that thought, too. Let’s go back to your dad and this weekend. Did he recover O.K.?”
“He did. It was a false alarm, really.”
“Good. I’m so glad to hear about that. But it’s curious that you didn’t share this with anyone else. Did you post anything anywhere about this episode? A zing, a comment anywhere?”
“No, I didn’t,” Mae said.
“Hmm. O.K.,” Denise said, taking a breath. “Do you think someone else might have benefited from your experience? That is, maybe the next person who might drive two or three hours home might benefit from knowing what you found out about the episode, that it was just a minor pseudo-seizure?”
“Absolutely. I could see that being helpful.”
“Good. So what do you think the action plan should be?”
“I think I’ll join the MS club,” Mae said, “and I should post something about what happened. I know it’ll be beneficial.”
Denise smiled. “Fantastic. Now let’s talk about the rest of the weekend. On Friday, you find out that your dad’s O.K. But the rest of the weekend, you basically go blank. You logged into your profile only three times, and nothing was updated. It’s like you disappeared!” Her eyes grew wide. “This is when someone like you, with a low PartiRank, might be able to improve that, if she wanted to. But yours actually dropped — 2,000 points. Not to get all number-geeky, but you were on 8,625 on Friday and by late Sunday you were at 10,288.”
“I didn’t know it was that bad,” Mae said, hating herself, this self who couldn’t seem to get out of her own way. “I guess I was just recovering from the stress of my dad’s episode.”
“Can you talk about what you did on Saturday?”
“It’s embarrassing,” Mae said. “Nothing.”
“ ‘Nothing’ meaning what?”
“Well, most of the day I stayed at my parents’ house and just watched TV.”
Josiah brightened. “Anything good?”
“Just some women’s basketball.”
“There’s nothing wrong with women’s basketball!” Josiah gushed. “I love women’s basketball. Have you followed my W.N.B.A. zings?”
“No. Do you have a zing feed about the W.N.B.A.?”
Josiah nodded, looking hurt, even bewildered.
‘Mae, I’m looking at your profile, and I’m finding nothing about you and kayaking. No smiles, no ratings, no posts, nothing. And now you’re telling us you kayak once every few weeks?’
“I’m sorry,” Mae said. “I guess I just didn’t think my interest in the W.N.B.A. rose to the level where it warranted joining a discussion group or, you know, following anything. I’m not that passionate about it.”
Denise squinted at Mae. “That’s an interesting choice of words: Passion. You’ve heard of P.P.T.? Passion, Participation and Transparency?”
Mae had seen the letters “P.P.T.” around campus and had not, until that moment, connected the letters to these three words. She felt like a fool.
Denise put her palms on the desk, as if she might get up. “Mae, you know this is a technology company, correct?”
“And that we consider ourselves on the forefront of social media.”
“And you know the term ‘transparency,’ correct?”
“I do. Absolutely.” Josiah looked at Denise, hoping to calm her. She put her hands in her lap. Josiah took over. He smiled and swiped his tablet, turning a new page.
“O.K.,” he said. “Let’s go to Sunday. Tell us about Sunday.”
“I just drove back.”
“Oh, and I kayaked.”
Josiah and Denise registered dual looks of surprise.
“You kayaked?” Josiah said. “Where?”
“Just in the bay.”
“No one. Just alone.”
“I kayak,” Josiah said, and then typed something in his tablet, pressing very hard.
Denise looked at Josiah with a stern kind of compassion, then turned to Mae. “How often do you kayak?”
“Maybe once every few weeks?”
Josiah was looking intently at his tablet. “Mae, I’m looking at your profile,” he said, “and I’m finding nothing about you and kayaking. No smiles, no ratings, no posts, nothing. And now you’re telling us you kayak once every few weeks?”
“Well, maybe it’s less than that?” Mae laughed, but Denise and Josiah did not. Josiah continued to stare at his screen, while Denise’s eyes probed into Mae.
“When you go kayaking, Mae, what do you see?”
“I don’t know. All kinds of things.”
“Seals, sea lions, pelicans?”
Denise tapped at her tablet. “O.K., I’m doing a search now of your name for visual documentation of any of these trips you’ve taken. I’m not finding anything.”
“Oh, I’ve never brought a camera.”
Josiah looked up, his eyes pained.
“But how do you identify all these animals?” Denise asked.
“I have this little thing my ex-boyfriend gave me,” Mae said. “It’s just a little foldable guide to local wildlife.”
Josiah exhaled loudly.
“I’m sorry,” Mae said.
Josiah rolled his eyes. “No, I mean, I know this is a tangent, but my problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. You look at your paper guide, and that’s where it ends. It ends with you. Like you’re the only one who matters. But think if you’d been documenting. If you’d been using a tool that would help confirm the identity of whatever birds you saw, then anyone can benefit — naturalists, students, historians, the Coast Guard. Everyone can know, then, what birds were on the bay on that day. It’s just maddening, thinking of how much knowledge is lost every day through this kind of shortsightedness. And I don’t want to call it selfish but — ”
‘To spend time with your parents, believe me, I think that is very, very cool. I just want to emphasize the community aspect of this job. We see this workplace as a community, and every person who works here is part of that community.’
“No. It was. I know it was,” Mae said.
Josiah softened. “But documentation aside, I’m just fascinated why you wouldn’t mention anything about kayaking anywhere. I mean, it’s a part of you. An integral part.”
Mae let out an involuntary scoff. “I don’t think it’s all that integral. Or all that interesting, really. Lots of people kayak,” Mae said.
“That’s exactly it!” Josiah said, quickly turning red. “Wouldn’t you like to meet other people who kayak?” Josiah tapped at his screen. “There are 2,331 people near you who also like to kayak. Including me.”
Denise was looking at Mae intensely. “Mae, I have to ask a delicate question. Do you think . . . Well, do you think this might be an issue of self-esteem?”
“Are you reluctant to express yourself and to share your experiences because you fear you aren’t valuable? That the moments of your life, and your opinions, don’t matter?”
Mae had never thought about it quite this way, but it made a certain sense. Was she too shy about expressing herself? “I don’t know, actually,” she said.
Denise narrowed her eyes. “Mae, I’m no psychologist, but if I were, I might have a question about your sense of self-worth. We’ve studied some models for this kind of behavior. Not to say this kind of attitude is antisocial, but it’s certainly sub-social and certainly far from transparent. And we see that this behavior sometimes stems from a low sense of self-worth — a point of view that says, ‘Oh, what I have to say isn’t so important.’ Do you feel that describes your point of view?”
Mae was too off-balance to see herself clearly. She didn’t know what to say.
“Mae,” Denise said, “we’d love if you could participate in a special program. I think it’ll really open your eyes to just how valuable a participant you can be. I think this shyness, this sense that your voice and your experiences don’t matter — I think that will all soon be in the past. Does that sound appealing? What do you think, would you like to be enrolled in this program?”
Mae knew nothing about it but knew she should say yes, so she smiled and said, “Absolutely.”
After the interview, at her desk, Mae scolded herself. What kind of person was she? She was so ashamed. She’d been doing the bare minimum. She disgusted herself and felt for Annie. Surely Annie had been hearing about her deadbeat friend Mae, who took this gift, this coveted job at the Circle — a company that had, at her desperate request, insured her parents! Had saved them from familial catastrophe! — and had been skating through. Damn it, Mae, she thought. Be a person of some value to the world.
She texted Annie, apologizing, saying she would do better, that she was embarrassed, that she didn’t want to abuse this privilege, and telling her that there was no need to write back, that she would simply do better, a thousand times better, immediately and from then on. Annie texted back, told her not to worry, that it was just a slap on the wrist, a correction, a common thing for newbies.
Mae looked at the time. It was 6 o’clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending 4 zings and 32 comments and 88 smiles. In an hour, her PartiRank rose to 7,288. Breaking 7,000 was more difficult, but by 8, after joining and posting in 11 discussion groups, sending another 12 zings, one of them rated in the top 5,000 globally for that hour, and signing up for 67 more feeds, she’d done it. She was at 6,872, and she turned to her InnerCircle social feed. She was a few hundred posts behind, and she made her way through, replying to 70 or so messages, RSVPing to 11 events on campus, signing nine petitions and providing comments and constructive criticism on four products currently in beta. By 10:16, her rank was 5,342, and again, the plateau — this time at 5,000 — was hard to overcome. She wrote a series of zings about a new Circle service, allowing account holders to know whenever their name was mentioned in any messages sent from anyone else, and one of the zings, her seventh on the subject, caught fire and was rezinged 2,904 times, and this brought her PartiRank up to 3,887.
She felt a profound sense of accomplishment and possibility that was accompanied, in short order, by a near-complete sense of exhaustion. It was almost midnight, and she needed sleep. It was too late to go all the way home, so she checked the dorm availability, reserved one, got her access code, walked across campus and into HomeTown.
When she closed the door to her room, she felt like a fool for not taking advantage of the dorms sooner. The room was immaculate, awash in silver fixtures and blond woods, the floors warm from radiant heat, the sheets and pillowcases so white and crisp they crackled when touched. The mattress, explained a card next to the bed, was organic, made not with springs or foam but instead a new fiber that Mae found was both firmer and more pliant — superior to any bed she’d ever known. She pulled the blanket, cloud-white and full of down, around her.
But she couldn’t sleep. Now, thinking about how much better she could do, she logged on again, this time on her tablet, and pledged to work till 2 in the morning. She was determined to break 3,000. And she did so, though it was 3:19 a.m. when it happened. Finally, her mind aglow but knowing she needed rest, she tucked herself in and turned off the lights.
At the end of every Circle workweek was Dream Friday, when Circlers gathered and were inspired — by products in development or a milestone the company had reached. This Friday, Annie told Mae, would be particularly significant, and they went to the Great Hall together. It was in the Enlightenment, and when they entered the venue, a 3,500-seat cavern appointed in warm woods and brushed steel, it was loud with anticipation. Mae and Annie found one of the last pairs of seats in the second balcony and sat down.
“Just finished this a few months ago,” Annie said. “Forty-five million dollars. Bailey modeled the stripes off the Duomo in Siena. Nice, right? Oh, here he comes.”
Mae’s attention was pulled to the stage, where a man was walking to a Lucite podium, amid a roar of applause. Eamon Bailey, one of the company’s three C.E.O.’s, the most social and personable of the Three Wise Men, was a tall man of about 45, round in the gut but not unhealthy, wearing jeans and blue V-neck sweater. There was no discernible microphone, but when he began speaking, his voice was amplified and clear.
“Hello, everyone. My name is Eamon Bailey,” he said, to another round of applause that he quickly discouraged. “Thank you. I’m so glad to see you all here. I know you’re used to hearing from one of our engineers or developers, but today, for better or for worse, it’s just me. For that I apologize in advance. But what I have to show you today, something we’re calling SeeChange, I think it’ll knock your socks off.”
A screen descended behind him, and on it appeared a rugged coastline in perfect resolution. “O.K., this is live video of Stinson Beach. This is the surf right at this moment. Looks pretty good, right?”
Annie leaned into Mae. “The next part’s incredible. Just wait.”
“Now, many of you still aren’t so impressed. As we all know, many machines can deliver high-res streaming video, and many of your tablets and phones can already support them. But there are a couple new aspects to all this. The first part is how we’re getting this image. Would it surprise you to know that this crystal-clear image isn’t coming from a big camera, but actually just one of these?”
He was holding a small device in his hand, the shape and size of a lollipop.
“This is a video camera, and this is the precise model that’s getting this incredible image quality. Image quality that holds up to this kind of magnification. So that’s the first great thing. We can now get high-def-quality resolution in a camera the size of a thumb. Well, a very big thumb. The second great thing is that, as you can see, this camera needs no wires. It’s transmitting this image via satellite.”
A round of applause shook the room.
“Wait. Did I say it runs on a lithium battery that lasts two years? No? Well it does. And we’re a year away from an entirely solar-powered model, too. And it’s waterproof, sandproof, windproof, animalproof, insectproof, everything-proof.”
More applause overtook the hall.
“O.K., so, many of you are thinking, Well, this is just like closed-circuit TV crossed with streaming technology, satellites, all that. Fine. But as you know, to do this with extant technology would have been prohibitively expensive for the average person. But what if all this was accessible and affordable to anyone? My friends, we’re looking at retailing these — in just a few months, mind you — at $59 each.”
Bailey held the lollipop camera out and threw it to someone in the front row. The woman who caught it held it aloft, turning to the audience and smiling gleefully.
“You can buy 10 of them for Christmas, and suddenly you have constant access to everywhere you want to be — home, work, traffic conditions. And anyone can install them. It takes five minutes tops. Think of the implications!”
The screen behind him cleared, the beach disappearing, and a new grid appeared.
‘Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. ... We’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle.’
“Here’s the view from my backyard,” he said, revealing a live feed of a tidy and modest backyard. “Here’s my front yard. My garage. Here’s one on a hill overlooking Highway 101 where it gets bad during rush hour.”
And soon the screen had 16 discrete images on it, all of them transmitting live feeds.
“Now, these are just my cameras. I access them all by simply typing in Camera 1, 2, 3, 12, whatever. Easy. But what about sharing? That is, what if my buddy has some cameras posted and wants to give me access?”
And now the screen’s grid multiplied, from 16 boxes to 32. “Here’s my pal Lionel Fitzpatrick’s screens. He’s into skiing, so he’s got cameras positioned so he can tell the conditions at 12 locations all over Tahoe.”
Now there were 12 live images of white-topped mountains, ice blue valleys, ridges topped with deep green conifers.
“Lionel can give me access to any of the cameras he wants. It’s just like friending someone, but now with access to all their live feeds. Forget cable. Forget 500 channels. If you have 1,000 friends, and they have 10 cameras each, you now have 10,000 options for live footage. If you have 5,000 friends, you have 50,000 options. And soon you’ll be able to connect to millions of cameras around the world. Again, imagine the implications!”
The screen atomized into a thousand mini-screens. Beaches, mountains, lakes, cities, offices, living rooms.
The crowd applauded wildly. “But for now, let’s go back to the places in the world where we most need transparency and so rarely have it. This is what the name SeeChange is all about — not oceans and ski resorts. It’s about affecting change through our ability to see and hold the world accountable, right? Let’s see our cameras in Tiananmen Square.”
Fifty live shots from all over the square filled the screen, and the crowd erupted again. “Imagine the difference these would have made when it mattered!” Bailey roared. Now he cleared the screen again and stepped toward the audience. “Well, from now on, we’ll be everywhere it matters. Let’s see the cameras in Damascus. Khartoum. Pyongyang.” He went on, the screen filling with live views from every authoritarian regime — and everywhere the cameras were so small they went undetected.
“You know what I say, right? In situations like this, I agree with The Hague, with human rights activists the world over. There needs to be accountability. Tyrants can no longer hide. There needs to be, and will be, access and documentation, and we need to bear witness. And to this end, I insist that all that happens must be known.”
The words appeared on the screen:
ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.
“Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket. We did that once before. It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would have been lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle.”
He turned again toward the screen and read it, inviting the audience to commit it to memory: “All that happens must be known.”
Mae leaned toward Annie. “Incredible.”
“It is, right?” Annie said.
Mae rested her head on Annie’s shoulder. “All that happens will be known,” she whispered.
The audience was standing now, and applause thundered through the room.
This has been adapted from Dave Eggers’s new novel, “The Circle,” to be published by Knopf/McSweeney’s on Oct. 8.
Editor: Claire Gutierrez
Produced by Troy Griggs and Heena Ko. Audio produced by Diantha Parker. Animations by Jon Huang and Christoph Niemann.
Digital Editor: Samantha Henig