How “The Circle” Parallels to Working at a Tech Startup

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Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel-turned-film, “The Circle,” centers on the evolution of Mae Holland as she begins an entry-level job at a tech company and eventually works her way up. Mae’s company—no spoilers, I promise—expects a certain level of digital participation from its employees.

I read this book in the fall of 2015 as required text for a college journalism course. I remember class discussions on the ethics of reviewing employees’ digital personas in conjunction with their physical performance, wondering if full integration into the tech stratosphere is a reasonable company expectation, or a private, personal choice.

Not long after, I began working at G2 Crowd and realized exactly how far behind I was in my understanding of basic software manners. There are surprisingly more than a few unwritten rules of tech employment that led me to initially, and still, be the butt of many a light-hearted joke.

Digital Don’ts

During the first days at my cubicle, I didn’t quite understand the value of having a second computer screen to work on. People who’d approach my desk to answer questions chided me for switching back and forth between tabs on my laptop or teased how small the font was when I pulled up spreadsheets. Needless to say, I’ve since realized the benefits of an HDMI chord.

Our method of intra-office communication, team collaboration software tool Slack, isn’t gamified quite yet but is still non-negotiable in terms of participation. I learned this the hard way, realizing that not having the mobile app left me in the dark on post-work emergency questions and, in some cases, weekend invites to socialize with coworkers. Once, I missed an invitation to see “Phantom of the Opera” because I failed to check the channel notifications.

An upside of living in the digital age is communicating professionally from the comfort of my living room couch. Google Hangouts is a pretty popular way for my coworkers and I to “attend” meetings while working remotely. That being said, there are still a few rules that make a virtual meeting a little more efficient, such as, say, having microphone permissions turned on. Although this sounds obvious, I spent my fair share of hangouts unknowingly speaking into a muted abyss before learning how to rectify my computer’s default sound settings. Add this to the growing list of “things that are obvious to everyone else, but somehow evade my common sense perceptors.”

Strength in Numbers

Luckily, I’m not alone in being a novice to the hyper-software scene. Senior research specialist, coworker and friend Tom Hardin first created a LinkedIn profile to apply for a role at G2 Crowd, and he has thus far successfully rejected all temptation to create social media profiles.

“I get a lot of comments if we talk about Twitter: Someone will stop and explain, ‘Tom, this is what Twitter is,’” Hardin said. “Anything pertaining to sending a tweet or a hashtag of any kind is explained to me in a literal fashion that feels slightly embarrassing and condescending.”

Our company has no requirement that employees maintain certain social media pages and allows those who do have them to post as often or as sparingly as they please. However, there remains certain limitations for those who opt out. If our team is doing a tweet chat with expert influencers, or trying to increase social shares on a certain blog post, Hardin cannot participate.

“There are benefits [to technology], but I also don’t know the name of everybody that works here,” Hardin said. “The whole idea of agile working is that communication is streamlined through the digital space and you don’t know these people on a face-to-face, personal level. I think that’s strange.”

This reluctance to completely digitize the human experience is nothing new. We are a species that simultaneously craves invention and disconnection, wanting the next big thing, but with the option to shut it off or log out. It’s why we hike, camp or travel without an international mobile plan. Underneath that desire to connect is a conflicting need for solitude and quiet reflection.

Closing Thoughts

Hardin argues for the sustainability of his preferences, citing that tech companies will always benefit from hearing two sides of a conversation, even if that side is in opposition to technology itself. He also clarifies that his reluctance to adapt to every piece of technology is not reflective of disgust for our overall digital habits.

“Since I’ve worked here, I’ve realized a lot of technology can be used in a productive way,” Hardin said. “That doesn’t mean I enjoy it, but at least I have a different perspective.”

How do we balance these expectations we’ve created? Do our digital personas also clock out after 5 p.m.? If you’re on the grid, can you ever really be off the clock?

The decision to adopt certain practices and profiles should, in my opinion, remain up to the user. Although it can certainly simplify communications between work communities, families and friend groups, full integration into the hyper-software scene is not mandatory. Coworkers still exist even if you can’t tag them in memes on Instagram.

We could learn something from our contrarian software friend, who questions everything rather than clicking “sign up now.” These instincts to be skeptical are what keep us honest, critical and, ultimately, ahead of the technology that rolls on at an unstoppable pace.

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