media moment The Circle

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Dear Reader,

Welcome to another Media Moment! This month, Anna Miller, the Media Coordinator at the Center for Young Women’s Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, shares how her interpretation of Dave Egger’s book, The Circle helped her set goals for using media more mindfully. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with our lives and the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~The Mediatrician®

Media Moment: Taking a Look in the Mirror

Have you read The Circle, by Dave Eggers? It’s a book about a large tech company, The Circle, whose slogan, “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN,” pretty overtly warns the reader of the darkness that lurks behind the company’s desire for total access and transparency on the Internet. The reader follows Mae Holland, a new Circle employee, as she is sucked into a company culture that promotes heavy social media use and even begins a “transparency” revolution where employees (and later politicians) wear HD cameras around their necks all day, live streaming to the world everything they do and say.

Eggers paints a dark and somewhat biased picture of where we are headed as a society of Internet users (there is very little attempt at arguing for the benefits of technology and connectivity in the world), but he does get a few things eerily accurate…

When Mae first sits at her new workstation, she has one desktop computer that she uses to talk to customers. Soon, a laptop is added so she can simultaneously chat with her boss, a third screen is added to follow her social media profiles, and before long she is surrounded by screens and a 24/7 influx of messages and pings. I could definitely relate.

At a company party, everyone has their phones out, uploading pictures, commenting on the food, and making it clear that they were THERE. Mae arrives, takes a few pictures and tags herself as having attended the event, then feels relieved she can leave, knowing that people will know she has been there. I could definitely relate.

Mae is immediately rated by her customers after each interaction she has with them and then notified of her new rating. She is consistently rated well, but the reader can feel Mae’s anxiety and frustration spike anytime her ratings dipped by even half a point. I could definitely relate.

Seeing all these obsessive behaviors played out through a character in a book, instead of in real life, ironically helped me see the reality, and sometimes the absurdity, of the way we use media. My stomach churned at how easily I could see myself in Mae’s place. How many times have I sat in front of my laptop, phone in hand, simultaneously responding to texts and messages with a furious urgency that really wasn’t called for? How many times have I felt compelled to document my presence at parties and events, feeling like it only really happened if it’s online the next day? And how much time have I wasted analyzing my Uber rating, my friend count, the number of likes on a photo?

There’s a thin line between connecting with others in ways that makes us feel happy and connecting with others in ways that feel compulsive and addictive, and The Circle painted a disconcerting picture of what the latter looks like. So I’m determined to make some changes.

Some of my new goals:

  • Limit myself to one screen at a time. If my laptop is open, my phone is away.
  • Use social media to learn about upcoming events (I hear about so many wonderful events through Facebook!) but once I’m there, leave my phone in my bag (or better yet, a phone bucket! Unplugged parties are the best kind.)
  • Use media with purpose. If I find myself absent-mindedly scrolling through feeds and pictures, I’ll pick up a book or people watch instead.

While I’m more optimistic than Eggers, and believe that technology and social media can be used responsibly in ways that make the world better, I also think it’s important to remember that they are powerful tools that need moderation. Egger’s vision helped me reevaluate how I use these tools in my daily life, and I’m excited for the challenge of unplugging a little bit every day.

~ Anna Miller

 

(photo credit: Anna Miller)

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