The Circle Opens Our Eyes to Internet Addiction

If you use your smartphone regularly and have ever had to be without your phone for more than five minutes, you know how awkward and uncomfortable it is to not be able to use it. A few days ago, I was standing in Starbucks waiting for my coffee. Since it usually takes a couple minutes for my barista, Joy, to make it, I would normally kill time by getting on social media through my phone. Although, on this particular visit, only 3% of my phone battery was remaining, and I didn’t want to waste it scrolling through Instagram. I stood there awkwardly and not knowing what to do with myself for probably five minutes. I felt agitated and uncomfortable the whole time, all because I couldn’t mindlessly check my Instagram feed. This is how Mae Holland in Dave Eggers’ The Circle would feel if she weren’t able to get on her phone or check social media every few seconds.

I would definitely admit to being addicted to social media. All that information at my fingertips makes me feel powerful and in control. The people at the Circle tend to feel the same way about knowledge. They are all at a point where their addiction to the Internet, social media, and the knowledge it provides that they take over the world with their platform, the Circle.

Mae starts off as a somewhat humble character who occasionally gets away from everything by kayaking and visiting her parents. She slowly becomes someone who relies on social media for everything and has actual anxiety when she can’t find something or someone on the Internet. After committing a minor crime, she decided to go transparent and film everything she does at all hours of the day and makes it available to watch in real time for anyone who has a Circle account. Mae is constantly online and her “PartiRank” (her score based on how active she is online) never leaves the top ten. Her family and ex-boyfriend, Mercer, shut her out completely in order to get away from the Circle.

Kalden, who is Mae’s secret lover, tries to be the voice of reason to Mae. He explains to her how completion of the Circle and having infinite knowledge is going to be an apocalypse, but she won’t listen. Mae never takes Kalden’s words into consideration. She tells everyone of Kalden’s plan to put an end to the Circle and gets him demoted to an advisory position in which he has no specific duties and very limited contact with people.

A graph of Facebook usage among students

Part of the reason Mae doesn’t listen to Kalden is because of her addiction to the Internet and all the knowledge she can get from it. Her addiction is a real issue we face in today’s society. According to Sam Leith, a literary editor for the Daily Telegraph who considers himself addicted to the internet, wrote on the issue saying, “Facebook made me so neglect my work on Wednesday that I caused a colleague to have a stress-related asthma attack.”

Professors at California State University added to this by explaining the symptoms of withdraw from the internet which are agitation, depression, anxiety, and anger. There are sometimes physical symptoms as well, which are a rapid heartbeat, tense shoulders, and shortness of breath. We see Mae experiencing withdraw symptoms in The Circle multiple times. She stays up until extremely late hours of the night trying to get her PartiRank higher and stays at work until 2 A.M. answering customer queries and posting to her Zing feed. Like an addict, Mae keeps wanting more out of social media. She always wants a better rating and a higher view count and experiences anxiety when she wants her scores to get higher. Mae has all this information flooding her brain and its leaving her wanting more. “As the Internet evolves and becomes more tailored to the individual, it grows increasingly easier to develop a dependency on it,” states parent advocate and founder of the Parent’s Universal Resource Experts, Sue Scheff.

Technology addicts use their devices or the Internet 40 to 80 hours per week, or they might go on “net binges” in which a single session can last up to 20 hours or more. -Larry D. Rosen, SCU professor

It’s clear that in The Circle, Circlers want to actually be social by attending parties and fan clubs, but these events only happen so that everyone can post about them online. During a meeting with Circles Denise and Josiah, Mae is questioned for not posting anything on social media about her visit with her parents, nor kayaking. Josiah becomes slightly angry with Mae because she won’t share her kayaking adventures with everyone online. What he and the other Circlers don’t understand is that posting what you’re doing on social media limits your experiences to a screen, and if anyone can log on and see their photos and videos, why should they leave the comfort of their home when everything they want to see is right there on a screen? According to Scheff, the lure of the web makes social media seem like an acceptable substitute for real life.

It’s obvious that Internet addiction has become a real issue. Ivan Goldberg, introducer of the concept of Internet Addiction Disorder, stated, “As the Internet weaves itself more and more tightly into our lives, only the Amish are completely safe.” When things like updated generations of smartphones and video cameras are coming out every season, can you really blame the addicts? The Internet is being thrown in our faces. We can’t escape it unless we all recycle our iPhones and move into a cave.

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