Anyone working in tech or any modern workplace (or who likes good fiction) should check out the excerpt from forthcoming novel “The Circle” by Dave Eggers that appears in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine.
It tells the story of a young woman recruited by a friend to work at a gleaming tech company called Circle, which is a hardware and social networking company that bears a resemblance to Google, Facebook, and Apple.
The woman, Mae, is marked as an outsider from the moment she reveals her old laptop (after being given a new, yet-to-be-released tablet):
“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.”
A month into her time at Circle, Mae is called into a meeting to discuss her tendency to clock out at 5 o’clock. Although she was fulfilling all of her job responsibilities, she wasn’t giving her life to the company like they wanted. “This isn’t what you might call a clock-in, clock-out type of company,” a supervisor tells her.
[M]odern employment tactics create the illusion that our employer is our friend. This fabrication empowers the employer while denying the employed the right to vocalize and protest dissatisfaction of their working conditions. “You’re not going to stick around and help out? I thought we were a team? I thought we were friends?”
Back to the excerpt, Mae’s supervisors scold her for letting her Participation Rank fall so low. Furthermore, they can’t understand why she isn’t sharing more of her life on social media:
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?”
By not participating in Circle, Mae’s supervisors tell her, she is not only failing to join the Circle community but also failing to document her experiences and observations in ways that would be useful to the world as a whole.
Eggers’s excerpt concludes with a company meeting straight out of “1984,” in which one of Circle’s three CEOs introduces a tiny HD camera, which the company plans to sell for $US59, enabling mass distribution and unprecedented live networked sharing:
50 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.
Mae, by now apparently brainwashed, turns to her friend and whispers: “All that happens will be known.”
Eggers, who is best-known for his 2000 memoir,”A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” moved toward satirical fiction with his 2012 novel, “A Hologram For The King,” which describes a failed American businessman trying to sell a telecom system in an expensive ghost city in Saudi Arabia. He also co-founded the 826 National non-profit writing program for kids, which launched in San Francisco and presumably is supported by plenty of people in Silicon Valley. (Disclosure: I interned at 826 Boston.)
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