Facebook Town: Welcome to a new reality

Rarely does a day go by anymore without Facebook grabbing headlines. However, the company’s most recent announcement really piqued my interest – because it bore such strong similarities to a fictional tale that I’ve just been reading.

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Numerous national media titles in the UK, including the BBC, have published news of the company’s purchase of a 56-acre plot of land for $400million (£262million) near its Silicon Valley headquarters. Reportedly, the sizeable new addition is to be used for offices, houses, shops and even a hotel for workers.

Facebook’s John Tenanes advised the Silicon Valley Business Journal that the new development in Menlo Park would be developed with the existing community in mind. It’s a very interesting word that, and leads me to question whether the social media giant’s latest acquisition may have been influenced, at least in small part, by the content of a recent novel.

American author Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel, The Circle, follows the journey of a young and ambitious tech worker, Mae Holland, who joins an incredibly influential and powerful internet company called, you guessed it, The Circle. While a work of pure fiction, it is a tale that has clearly been significantly influenced by the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter.

I’d like to share a few brief extracts from the book with you quickly, if you’ll indulge me. Look closely and you may notice a few similarities with Facebook’s latest announcement…

Early on, Mae is shown the facilities on offer to Circle employees. Her primary reaction to the campus is very positive:

There was a tour of the health center … a tour of the organic gardens, a hundred yards square, where there were two full-time farmers giving a talk to a large group of Circlers [Circle employees] while they sampled the latest harvest of carrots and tomatoes and kale. There was a tour of the mini-golf area, the movie theater, the bowling alleys, the grocery store. 

Finally, deep in what Mae assumed was the corner of the campus … they toured the company dorms. Mae had heard something about them, Annie [a member of the Circle's senior team] mentioning that sometimes she crashed on campus and now preferred those rooms to her own home. 

Walking through the hallways, seeing the tidy rooms, each with a shiny kitchenette, a desk, an overstuffed couch and bed, Mae had to agree that the appeal was visceral.

Having familiarised herself with the campus’ wide offering, Mae’s line manager shortly thereafter explains how it aligns with the company’s core beliefs:

We want this to be a workplace, sure, but it should also be a humanplace. And that means the fostering of community. In fact, it must be a community. 

That’s one of our slogans, as you know: Community First.

This emphasis on community – and what specifically constitutes community involvement in the modern era – is vital to the narrative, as Mae swiftly learns that there are lofty expectations placed on not only her, but all Circle employees, to continue to live the brand even once the working day has draw to a close, and to remain in close online dialogue with all colleagues. Her line manager, again, is there to remind Mae of the importance of this:

I just want to emphasise the community aspect of this job. We see this workplace as a community, and every person who works here is part of that community. And to make it all work it requires a certain level of participation. 

Mae’s failure to participate at the required level with others on campus is noted, prompting a visit from HR:

“We consider you a full, knowable human being of unlimited potential. And a crucial member of the community … but as you know, you’ve had a blip or two when it comes to meshing with the community here … there’s your absence at most of the weekend and evening events, all of which are of course totally optional…”

“Let’s start with this past weekend. We know you left campus at 5:42 p.m. on Friday, and you got back here 8:46 a.m. on Monday.”

“Was there work on the weekend?” Mae searched her memory. “Did I miss something?”

“No, no, no. There wasn’t, you know, mandatory work here on the weekend. That’s not to say there weren’t thousands of people here Saturday and Sunday [though], enjoying the campus, participating in a hundred different activities.”

Without wanting to give anything away (it’s a great book that I highly recommend), as The Circle’s story unravels, it becomes clear that what at first appears to be a utopian corporate landscape is not without its many pitfalls.

Facebook’s true motivation for developing what has been dubbed by the media as ‘Facebook Town’ is currently still open to much speculation and could of course be well-intentioned and a way of giving back to the wider community in California. However, any workers considering a future move to the shiny new facilities that are likely to be on offer may wish to peruse a copy of Eggers’ thought-provoking tome first.

You’ll likely need to head to your nearest book store to find it though; I have a hunch it won’t be appearing in Mark Zuckerberg’s A Year of Books reading list anytime soon…

Image source: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid [via Flickr]