The morning after she reunites with Kalden, Mae calls Annie and tells her that she’s met someone—someone with grey hair. Annie is perplexed, since she doesn’t know any Circle employees who fit that description. She asks for his last name, but Mae doesn't know it. Annie says that she’s at the airport, headed to Peru, and has to hang up.
It’s telling that Annie can’t think of anyone at the Circle with grey hair—almost everyone who works there is young and healthy. Annie continues to travel the world on behalf of the Circle (which is clearly expanding around the globe).
Alone, Mae thinks about meeting Kalden the previous evening. She thinks about how they walked around the campus, and how, at the end of the night, he pulled her close to him, as if he’d wanted to kiss her. Suddenly, Annie calls back. Mae remembers what Annie’s told her: the Circle is in “some moderately hot water” over their plan to use drones to count every tree in the Amazon. Annie asks Mae if she has any pictures of Kalden, but Mae admits that she doesn’t. Privately, she feels certain that Kalden will find a way to contact her again.
Instead of kissing Kalden immediately, Mae and Kalden hesitate, taking things more slowly—again, distinguishing Kalden from Francis, for whom Mae has immediate, but volatile, feelings. Annie’s mention of “hot water” suggests that the Circle is, becoming a dangerous company and threatening the rest of the world. Kalden is unique in the story because Mae knows almost nothing about him—a rarity in the social networking age.
At work, Mae focuses on her customers, and ignores Francis’s endless stream of messages and apology videos. Annie returns from Peru on Friday and meets up with Mae to watch the news about the Circle’s latest venture: replacing all paper currency with “CircleMoney.” They watch a news story about how Senator Williamson is leading a task force to investigate the Circle for acting as a monopoly. Mae isn’t sure what to think. She knows that the Circle owns a huge chunk of the Internet, but she isn’t sure why this should be a problem. Annie scoffs and assures Mae that Senator Williamson won’t be able to do anything to harm the Circle. She asks Mae to keep an eye out for Kalden—she’s worried about having “some shadowy guy skulking around campus.”
Mae continues to turn a blind eye to the ethical implications of the Circle—she’s been so seduced by the Circle’s, optimistic worldview that she can only scoff when Senator Williamson claims that the Circle is a monopoly. Also, the fact that the Circle is about to replace all currency with its own forms of payment suggests that the Circle is becoming even more monopolistic. Mae is so confident that the Circle has the best interests of its customers at heart that she doesn’t think it’s a problem that it controls the Internet.
One afternoon, Dan asks to speak with Mae; in his office, he tells her that she’s been getting great aggregate ratings. Then, he apologizes for not “communicating everything about this job properly.” He explains that Mae isn’t being social enough—she’s not going to enough parties, and her “participation rank” is very low. Condescendingly, he asks Mae if he’s “driving her away” somehow. Mae reluctantly explains that her father had a stroke recently—she’s been spending time with her family. Dan tells Mae that it’s “very cool” to spend time with family—but he repeats that the Circle is a community-based company.
Dan’s advice confirms what readers may have suspected already: at the Circle, social networking participation is more important than job performance. Dan turns out to be just as condescending as Mae’s previous boss, which suggests that, beneath the glamor and hype, the Circle is just an old-fashioned, self-interested company. In spite of what he says, Dan seems to have little respect for Mae’s family—as far as he’s concerned, spending time with family is just another form of social interaction, no more important than going to a party or a potluck.
Dan takes Mae to meet with Josiah and Denise from HR. Denise greets Mae by saying, “You’re such an enigma.” She explains that Mae hasn’t been participating in many Circle-wide parties or other social events. She’s concerned about Mae’s recent “situation” with Alistair. Denise suggests that Mae reach out to the Circle’s groups for “staffers dealing with MS.” She asks Mae why, in the last three weeks, she hasn’t posted about her father’s MS. Posting about her experience could have put her in touch with other Circle employees who might be able to provide her with advice or emotional support. Josiah asks Mae about her Sunday, and Mae explains that she went kayaking alone. Josiah, seeming personally offended, mutters, “I kayak.” Mae apologizes, half jokingly, for being “selfish.” She begins to feel very uncomfortable.
At the Circle, it would seem, an enigma is anyone who doesn’t go to parties every day or participate in social networking 24/7. Josiah and Denise, despite working in the HR department, seem unable to understand why Mae wouldn’t post online about her father’s medical condition—the privacy of Mae or her father seems entirely irrelevant to them. At the Circle, privacy is considered selfishness—as evidenced by Josiah’s comment, “I kayak.” Although Mae jokes about having been selfish, Josiah and Denise seem to take her comment seriously.
Denise and Josiah explain that they’re afraid that Mae’s is becoming “sub-social.” They suggest that she meet up with a man named Pete Ramirez, and Mae agrees to do so. After her meeting, Mae feels guilty for letting down her company—the same company that’s taking such good care of her parents. Annie messages her, “Goddamnit, Mae, give a shit!” For the rest of the evening, Mae “zings,” posts pictures online, and comments on other people’s pictures. Over the next few hours, her PartiRank rises from the 10,000s to the 3,000s. That night, rather than drive all the way home, Mae sleeps in a dorm room on the Circle campus, where she stays up until 3 am, trying to increase her PartiRank.
Even though Mae has seemed like a perfectly ordinary, perfectly social human being, she’s considered to be sub-social by the standards of the Circle. This passage proves Mercer’s earlier point: the Circle is forcing people to adjust to an unnatural level of online interaction. Mae, fiercely loyal to her company, loses sleep trying to improve her PartiRank. We know now that, contrary to what Gina claimed, PartiRank is an important part of one’s performance as a Circle employee.
The next morning, Mae goes to her desk and finds her screens covered with messages of congratulations from her Circle friends. For the next few days, Mae tries to break into the top 2,000. Her aggregate rating for customers remains high, around a 97. Over the weekend, Mae immerses herself in numbers—her ratings, the number of “likes” she accumulates, the number of people who follow her online, etc. She begins sleeping in the Circle dorm rooms.
As Mae becomes more and more invested in her social life at the Circle, she begins to see the world in terms of numbers, and, as a result, she begins to lose sight of the spiritual, intangible aspects of being a human being, like privacy, solitude, and freedom. As Mae becomes more ingrained in Circle life, she finds herself sleeping in Circle dorms more often, reflecting her vanishing ties to the outside world.
One evening, Mae finds herself thinking about Kalden. She texts Annie and tells her that she hasn’t heard from him in a while. Privately, she thinks about the way his hands felt against her back, and finds it bizarre that she’s been unable to find him anywhere at the Circle. Suddenly, Mae feels a sudden wave of despair. She’s full of doubt, and feels like a failure for being unable to find Kalden.
As Mae becomes more accustomed to constant social networking, she finds that she’s unable to tolerate even a second of uncertainty or isolation from another human being. It’s not that unusual that Mae wouldn’t be able to find Kalden, but because she’s used to knowing everything about everyone, she has a minor anxiety attack when she can’t find him.
Later that night, Francis comes to Mae’s dorm and asks her to come to his own dorm. There, Francis plays delicate piano music for her, and shows her a photo album with pictures of Francis as a younger man. Mae notices pictures of Francis with his two sisters, both of whom were murdered. She begins to cry, and she realizes that Francis is the gentlest, saddest person she knows, and she thinks she can change that about him. Suddenly, she unzips his pants and grabs his penis, wondering what she could do to send this “shy boy over the edge.” Before she can pull his pants down past his thighs, Francis ejaculates, and says, “Sorry.”
Mae has a romantic evening with Francis—she looks through old photos and listens to piano music. But, considering that Francis knows about LuvLuv, it’s entirely possible that he planned the entire evening based on what he could learn of Mae’s taste (which would make the night creepy, not romantic). Mae is attracted to Francis because he’s so shy, sympathetic, and adorable. As Eggers says here, Francis is the epitome of the “shy boy” type that some people find sexy. Francis suffers from premature ejaculation problems, perhaps symbolizing his immaturity and the distant, unfulfilled nature of his romantic relationship with Mae.
Mae says that she should go, and Francis says “Okay” dispassionately. Mae is vaguely offended—she wants Francis to ask her to stay. She notices him retrieving his phone, and she realizes that Francis was filming the two of them. Furious, Mae tells Francis to delete the video, but Francis insists that the video belongs to him as much as it belongs to Mae. He begs to keep a “memento of the experience.”
Disturbingly, Francis filmed Mae without telling her—a major violation of her privacy. Francis’s defense for his actions is nonsensical. He has no right to film Mae without her permission.
On Friday, Annie and Mae are sitting in the Great Hall, where Tom Stenton is about to give a talk. Mae has told Annie about the video Francis took, and Annie points out that, as long as Francis doesn’t show it to people, he should be able to keep it; deleting a video is like killing a baby.
Annie seems oddly unperturbed by Francis’s actions—indeed, she makes a bizarre, hyperbolic analogy to explain why it would be wrong to delete Francis’s video.
Stenton emerges on the stage and begins his lecture. He talks about the importance of transparency at the Circle, and he introduces a “Transparent Man” named Stewart. Stewart wears a small photo lens around his neck. Stenton explains that Congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low—indeed, Senator Williamson was just put under investigation for various ethical violations (Mae hasn’t heard this before). To restore people’s trust in their elected leaders, Stenton proposes that government officials “go clear.” He introduces Congresswoman Olivia Santos, who has agreed to wear a photo lens at all times, allowing anyone in the world to see what she’s doing at any time.
Tom Stenton is more overtly villainous than Eamon Bailey. When he hints that Senator Williamson has been put under investigation, for example, it’s easy for readers to assume that the Circle has done something to ensure the Senator’s fall. The notion of “going clear”—wearing a camera that allows anyone to watch at any time—seems like a 21st century version of the old totalitarian principle: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” The fact that Congresswoman Santos is cooperating with Stenton suggests that the Circle is becoming politically influential.
That night, the Circle holds a reception party for Congresswoman Santos. Ty appears via webcam, congratulating the Circle for its “awesome new step” toward transparency. Mae notices that Ty seems tired, with bags under his eyes, and doesn't seem to want to say very much.
Ty seems to be congratulating Stenton for introducing the “going clear” system—but his speech doesn't mention anything specific to “going clear,” which raises the possibility that this speech was recorded a long time ago.
While walking around the party, Mae encounters Kalden. Immediately, she asks him why she’s been unable to find him, and he asks her if she’s spelled his name correctly. She asks if he even works for the Circle, and Kalden doesn’t explain how to spell his name, but he insists that he works for the Circle—how else could he get past security? While Mae is talking to Kalden, two of her coworkers greet her by name and tell her about Stenton’s plan to dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
Kalden continues to deny Mae the information she wants. Indeed, the way he denies Mae information is almost flirtatious. Stenton’s dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench symbolizes his boundless ambition, and his desire to explore (and, perhaps, dominate) the entire world.
When Kalden and Mae are alone again, she asks where the “stuff from Stewart’s camera” goes. Kalden says that it’s stored in “the cloud,” but that it must be stored in a physical space, too. He takes Mae down a long hallway. As they walk, he explains that his job is to “go to meetings, listen, and provide feedback.”
Kalden continues to be vague about his job at the Circle, although, actually, he’s told Mae more about his job now than Annie has told Mae about hers.
Kalden leads Mae to a large room, in which there’s a huge red box. Kalden explains that the box contains all the information being collected about Stewart. She shows her another room, with another red box; this one collects information about Santos. As Kalden explains the boxes, Mae kisses him. Kalden hesitates and then kisses her back. He leads Mae to a narrow corridor, where the “future Stewarts” will go. He tells Mae, “You can’t tell anyone I took you here.” Kalden kisses Mae with more confidence than she’s sensed in him before. He leads her to a strange alcove near the corridor; to Mae’s surprise, Kalden explains that this is where he sleeps. There, Kalden and Mae have sex.
Kalden’s metonymic observation about “future Stewarts” is sinister, seeming to imply that the Circle defines people as the sum of their quantitative, digital identities. Furthermore, it implies that going transparent is an imprisoning, dehumanizing experience. On the other hand, Kalden and Mae’s sexual encounter is liberating and invigorating—where Francis is shy and inexperienced, Kalden is strong, confident, and magnetic.