Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
- Outline Mercer’s view on the abuse of social media. (30 %)
- Analyze the ways Mercer attempts to persuade Mae to change her online behavior. Give evidence from the text. (30 %)
- Choose one of the following tasks: 3.1 Discuss Mercer’s comparison of social media with “snack food” (l. 57). Refer to your knowledge about how young people use social media. (40 %)
3.2 Compare Mercer’s opinion with that of another character in literature or film who also has a critical view of technology. Assess the way they cope with living in a world obsessed with technology. (40 %)
3.3 Write a letter to Dave Eggers in which you invite him to take part in a panel discussion on “The Dangers of Social Media”. Explain your reasons for inviting him, reflecting on the criticism of social media in his novel and your own view on the subject. Address your letter to:
Mr. Dave Eggers McSweeney’s 849 Valencia St. San Francisco, CA 94110 USA
Mercer is Mae’s ex-boyfriend, who does not agree with the policy of The Circle, a very powerful internet company she is working for.
In the given excerpt, Mae and Mercer are talking about social media and their abuse, according to Mercer. At the beginning, he complains about the way the two of them interact. She sends him links or quotes from other people who have said or posted something about him, without adding her personal thoughts. Mae seems to take everything that is online for the truth. When Mercer refers to an event some time ago, when she believed someone on the net - who was saying negative things about Mercer - without talking to him about it, Mae obviously does not understand his sorrows. She does not even make the impression that she is trying to understand her ex-boyfriend.
Mercer states that social media do not allow any real conversation between them. He would like to talk to her directly, face-to-face, with real questions and answers. He doesn’t want other people to interfere or to make comments on anything; he just wants to get back to what humans usually do: to sit and talk openly, using words instead of emojis or thumbs up and down. Mercer demands a real world with real social contacts - and thus competences.
Mercer tries to warn Mae about The Circle’s intention when the company wants to convince the people to use social media 24/7: an artificial desire to share everything with everyone, and in this way end up as a completely transparent person without individuality. He does not see much purpose in social media, as he compares it to consuming empty calories. Both do not contribute to feeling better.
Finally, Mercer notices that he is not able to talk to Mae any longer, as nothing he says or does stays between them, but instead is posted or sent somewhere immediately. And even worse, the information gathered by the company is used to make a lot of money. All this, The Circle and how Mae is working for them, are condemned by Mercer. The uncontrolled and obscure use of social media makes it impossible to interact and communicate on a private level any longer, as the people in general and especially Mercer and Mae seem to be made of glass – everyone knows everything about you, because there is no way of keeping personal aspects to yourself.
Mercer and Mae were in a relationship, and broken up with each other at some point. Nevertheless, they seem to be in contact rather regularly. This contact mostly happens via social media, because Mae is completely focused on it. Mercer does not like Mae’s online behavior, as in his opinion she opens up herself and everything around her to the public, to all the other people in this dystopian society.
At the beginning of the given excerpt, Mercer appeals to Mae’s understanding. He describes his own perception of their interaction (for example, “It becomes like we’re never alone.” l.5). He goes on to state that she does not notice him herself, but looks at him “through a hundred other people’s eyes” (l.6), which means Mae is not able or willing to rely on her own impressions and individual thoughts, but seems to need other people to help her see someone, or even to think independently.
Mercer repeatedly uses the very private level between himself and Mae to try to open her eyes and show her that she is violating his feelings. He talks about himself, and thus hopes that Mae will recognize her friend and his fears, and not only see someone who does not understand her intense affection for social media (see ll.16 ff).
In the course of the dialogue, Mercer describes using social media as something that has no truth in it, but is just gossip, hearsay and conjecture (l.28). He appeals to her understanding of social competences, which in former times were much better developed in people than in the present day. Using social media in the way The Circle prefers it was once the privilege of the youth, but today it has turned into something stupid: No one cares about the sense and nonsense of this exhibitionism, but instead constantly use social media. Mercer’s attempts to make Mae realize that her online behavior should be changed include a comparison of social media to empty calories. Both have the same effect: the calories hidden in snack food do not satisfy your hunger, but make you addicted. You think you need all these social media to be up to date, but you only get addicted, as you may feel you would miss something if you were not online. Here, Mercer tries to touch Mae emotionally, but seemingly without success. Additionally, his very last argument about privacy, which does not exist between them any longer, does not help them come up with a satisfying solution to the problems of their different perception of social media.
In the given excerpt, Mercer and his ex-girlfriend talk about social media. Mercer tries to convince Mae that her attitude towards using media is wrong, if not even unhealthy. To support this image, he compares social media with snack food. He emphasizes the emptiness of both: snack food is eaten because you feel the desire to do so, but there is no need. Social media are created by The Circle to make people open up their whole selves, to be watched and seen by the others, but on the other hand, they convey the feeling that no individual can exist without these media.
Today, many young people seem to feel the same way - we cannot exist without using social media. Smartphones and tablets enable us to have access to the internet everywhere. We bow to peer pressure, and are convinced that we would be outsiders if we ignored the importance of social media.
Facebook, twitter, tumbler, Instagram or Youtube are examples of social media that every teenager is familiar with. We use these platforms to stay in contact with our friends, even when they live at the edge of the world, or to share wonderful impressions. We text messages and send photos, we exchange information on topics we find important, or we use the media to make appointments or dates or break up with friends.
Next to these entertaining aspects, there is also an economic one. Big companies have figured out that social media platforms are useful to present advertising. Facebook and Youtube are examples of doing so successfully.
I am not completely convinced of the advantages of social media. Everything that can be done with the help of these media could be done in an old-fashioned way as well. We could read books and encyclopedias, we could write letters and postcards, or we could glue our photographs into albums and simply show them around. We could meet real friends and spend time with them talking face to face. That way, we could develop our social competences, or practice reading and spelling abilities.
Honestly said, I cannot understand why some people, younger or older ones alike, post photos which show them in a very private or intimate atmosphere. Obviously, they just want to attract other people’s attention and to be talked about. They confuse virtual with real friends, which may lead to loneliness and isolation. Worst of all, some of these people do not consider the fact that your photos or videos, once uploaded, may be deleted but still be found on the internet.
Of course, one should not deny the technical progress and its impact on our lives, but using social media 24/7 separates people from real life.
This is what Mercer means when he compares snack food and those social media tools. One could live perfectly well without them, but one feels the urge and necessity of being part of the online community. Empty calories, or the extensive use of social media, do not contribute to any positive development in our lives: We are just addicted to them.
In the given extract of the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers, Mercer, an ex-boyfriend of one of the main characters, Mae, tries to convince her of the dangers of using social media so excessively. In their dystopian society, an internet company called The Circle has invented little electronic gadgets which help the people to stay in contact with and talk about each other 24/7.
Their slogan is ‘All that happens must be known’. These simple words emphasize what the company stands for: watching and observing people, surveillance, not accepting any amount of privacy. Thus, the population cannot exist as individuals any longer, as they become as transparent as glass; everyone knows everything about everyone. All the things you do are made public, information about you is freely available, but worst of all, no one seems to be interested in whether the published ‘facts’ are real or just fake. Here, Mercer uses an example to open Mae’s eyes, and refers to a point in time when she read something about him and took it for the truth, although she never asked Mercer about it. She even seems to be surprised when she learns that it was not a correct statement about him when she asks, ‘Well, how am I supposed to know that?’ (l.16). Mae is deeply convinced that her way of using social media is far beyond any criticism, but the one and only possibility of existing and taking part in society.
In contrast to her, Mercer can look behind the scenes. He understands the company’s intention when they repeatedly force people to use social media, thus making them visible to everyone when they post their entire lives online. The company can gain control over the people, and in the end will be able to control the whole society. All of this makes him worried about the future.
Some time ago I read Oryx and Crake, a novel by Margaret Atwood. In this novel, one can read about a post-apocalyptic character named Snowman. Snowman once lived in a world which was dominated by multinational corporations, with privileged compounds for the employees’ families. As a boy, Snowman meets a boy nicknamed Crake. After finishing school, Crake becomes a bioengineer and Snowman studies the humanities. Crake wants to create models for families to choose from for their future children with regard to their genetic features. Eventually, he successfully introduces his wonder drug, but now a global pandemic breaks out and the human race dies out step by step.
Snowman wonders why the world’s situation could have come that far, and why humans were not able or did not want to see the consequences, but does not find any answers. At the end of the story, Crake is shot by his former friend Snowman, whose final destiny is not really clear to the reader when he meets three other humans who are the only ones who survived.
Snowman obviously suffers from the results of extreme research on genetics and its impact on human beings as they die out. Once he, in a way, supported Crake’s research, although not deliberately. In contrast to him, Mercer is not affected directly, so he should not be that worried about the consequences of technology. However, as a human who has not forgotten how to think logically and who is able and willing to help others, Mercer does not give up hope of changing Mae’s mind about social media. Mercer’s life is not endangered as Snowman’s is, but both have one thing in common: Snowman needs to fight for survival in a contaminated world, and Mercer needs to fight mental contamination. The effects of those could be the same – they lose their identity and thus their lives.
24 April 2015
Mr Dave Eggers
849 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA
Dear Mr Eggers,
I am writing to you to invite you to take part in a panel discussion on the topic “The Dangers of Social Media” in our school.
As we have read your novel The Circle in class, we are sure that it would be a great pleasure for all of us to have you in our midst to contribute to our discussion. You have obviously studied the topic of social media and their abuse intensively. This is why we would appreciate welcoming you to our discussion. Opening people’s eyes, especially those of teenagers, to the advantages and disadvantages of social media is the aim of our panel, as we are convinced that a certain kind of threat lies in the overuse of media.
In your novel, you created the characters of Mae and Mercer, and it is really interesting to follow them throughout the story. Mae is a young lady who has been working for a company that unites the working fields of Facebook, Twitter and Google. They have developed products which will eventually be used for a complex monitoring of the population. This scenario reminds us of other books we have read, like 1984 by George Orwell. The vision that people live in a society where everything is being watched by some special institutions or groups, whose aim seems to be to get us under their control, is horrible and frightening.
History has shown that humans have always tried to influence other people or even make them weak-willed. We can look back into the Middle Ages, when the Church denied people the right to learn reading and writing; this was done to prevent them from reading books, from widening their horizon and allowing them to share ideas and understanding that they, the people, were being suppressed and limited in everything they did.
We can find lots of examples showing that dictators have tried to control or influence people’s minds. For example, in the Third Reich, Nazi Germany forbade every kind of literature which did not follow or support their ideology. The Stalinist Soviet Union even made their own people spy on family and friends, and report their supposedly non-socialist behavior to the authorities. Most of those enemies of the system ended up in prisons or GULAGs.
Of course, these insane examples did not use social media to influence people. But when we imagine that there are gadgets which can be used to make people believe that it is their will to use these devices, and that it is for their own good to be transparent humans who do not have anything to hide, then we feel like we are being placed completely under their control.
Our panel discussion is intended to convince people to critically use social media and not to open up their minds or thoughts to everyone online. We want to make it clear that there are real dangers in using social media. Think of young children who start chatting with strangers, whom they believe are of the same age, but unfortunately turn out to be pedophiles. Children and teenagers do not think of the possible consequences of posting private information or photos. Thus, prospective employers may get a completely negative impression of the young men and women they are interested in hiring. Surfing the internet and using social media too excessively can lead to social isolation, or even to the loss of any sense of reality.
Dear Mr Eggert, we hope that you can share additional ideas with us about the pros and cons of the use of social media. We are also interested in your motivation in writing such a novel on the dangerous aspects of Facebook & Co. We are absolutely sure that you, as an expert on the topic, will be much more convincing than just teenagers discussing a problem which touches every single generation.
We are looking forward to welcoming you at our panel discussion.
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