In the days following her kiss with Francis, Mae wonders if she’s falling in love. Although she decides that she’s only “halfway” to love, she savors every moment with Francis and finds that she takes more pleasure in her work because she knows that she’ll be meeting up with Francis soon.
Notice that Mae falls “halfway in love” rather quickly. While it’s not wrong for a young person to feel passion, it could be a sign of the shallowness of 21st century relationships that Mae is infatuated with Francis, and yet knows little about him.
One Friday, Mae and Francis sit in the Great Hall for the weekly presentation of new information. The speaker, Gus Khazeni, used to work on Francis’s child safety project he and will be presenting on his new research. Eamon Bailey comes out, welcomes the Circle employees to their weekly meeting, and introduces Gus. Gus greets the audience warmly, jokes about his parents pressuring him to marry, and asks if anyone in the audience is interested in “finding a mate.” Gus shows the audience the Circle’s dating website, which is called LuvLuv. He asks for a volunteer from the audience, and Mae is surprised to see Francis putting his hand up. Francis comes to the front of the stage, and Gus asks him if there’s someone he’d like to date; Francis replies that he’d like to date “someone named Mae Holland.” Mae feels extremely uncomfortable. Gus shows Francis how to use LuvLuv to search for Mae’s interests and hobbies. As Francis and Gus crack jokes, Mae thinks that she’d like to kill “this version of Francis.”
Just a few pages after claiming to be halfway in love with Francis, Mae feels like she’d like to kill him—surely this is a sign that she didn’t know Francis very well to begin with. Francis and Gus are talking as if Mae isn’t really present in the room at all—or, put another way, as if she’s a prize to be won by strategically planning the perfect date. Gus and Francis’s presentation is dehumanizing and disrespectful. Some California tech companies have been criticized for being sexist and even misogynistic, and this passage suggests why: they hire young, somewhat emotionally immature men who haven’t learned how to treat women with respect.
Later that day, Mae is still furious with Francis and Francis tries to apologize to her to no avail. Francis leaves Mae to work at her desk, but he continues sending her apology messages. As she works, Mae tries to pinpoint what made her so angry about Francis’s behavior. Although none of the information that Gus found about Mae was particularly private, Mae didn’t like the feeling of being reduced to a set of likes and dislikes.
Surprisingly, Mae finds it difficult to pinpoint what she finds so offensive about Gus and Francis’s presentation (from the reader’s perspective, it’s perfectly obvious: Francis’s violated her privacy and objectified her). But it’s a sign of how indoctrinated Mae has already become that she finds it hard to express the idea that there are some aspects of a human being that cannot be quantified or digitized.
Mae is so wrapped up in her anger that she doesn’t notice her mother messaging her; when she looks, she sees that her mother wants her to come home. Mae drives home as fast as she can, and she is surprised to find her mother, her father, and her old boyfriend Mercer sitting in the living room. Mercer explains that, “they wanted me to help out.” Mae’s mother tells her that Mae’s father may have had a seizure—the doctors aren’t sure. Mae’s father is feeling fine now, and he insists that Mercer saved his life by driving him to the hospital.
It’s may be a sign of the distance growing between Mae and her family that she doesn't get her mother’s message about her father until many hours have passed. The passage also introduces us to Mercer—one of the only characters in the novel to offer an intelligent critique of the Circle.
At dinner, Mae learns that her father had been experiencing blurred vision all day and he collapsed later in the afternoon. After dinner, Mae’s parents go to bed, and Mae and Mercer stay up talking. Mercer tells Mae that he’s been running his own store, which sells chandeliers made from deer antlers. Mae tells Mercer that she’s been working in Customer Experience at the Circle, and she mentions that she’s seen a few customers’ comments about Mercer’s business—some comments are very negative. Mae takes out her phone and reads through some of the negative comments, even after Mercer asks her to stop. Mercer sighs and tells Mae, “Every time I see you, there’s a hundred other people in the room.” Mae protests that Mercer is a businessman and he should care more about his customers’ happiness. Mercer shoots back that “the world has dorkified itself”: people only care about simplistic judgments (“like” and “dislike”) and they spend all their time alone, looking at their electronic devices. He also argues that Mae’s company manufactures “unnaturally extreme social needs.”
Mercer represents the opposite of everything the Circle celebrates: he’s humble, active, good with his hands, old-fashioned, and dislikes social networking. It is a sign of the growing disconnect between Mae and her old life that she and Mercer cannot understand each other’s position regarding Mercer’s furniture store: Mercer is baffled when Mae reads customer comments out loud, and Mae is equally baffled when Mercer gets offended. Although Mae finds Mercer’s complaints silly, Mercer’s point is dead-on: social networking has reduced human interaction to a shadow of its former self. As we’ve already seen, the Circle nudges its employees into constant social networking, forcing them to become addicted to an unnatural level of social contact.
Mae thanks Mercer for helping her dad and she walks to her room. A few minutes later, she hears Mercer leave. She spends the rest of her night handling customer queries on her tablet so that, “by midnight she felt reborn.”
Mae is beginning to go to the dark side—she feels more comfortable and at ease when she’s interacting with strangers via an electronic device than she does in person with Mercer or her family.