The Every, a new near-future tech dystopia novel from author Dave Eggers, marks the first time the famed writer has penned a sequel in his two-decades-plus career. In the seven years after Eggers published his tech-obsessed bestseller The Circle, the author found himself still taking notes on things that could take place in that world. He soon understood why some of the writers he admires most (Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Philip Roth, etc.) revisit worlds, characters, and ideas they’ve already built. The evolution, he told Ars Technica, can be fascinating.
“When you establish the foundation and build a world, after the book comes out, you still have ideas about what happens next—I see the attraction,” Eggers said in an interview with Ars. “[When I’m going to write a book] there’s usually a catalytic moment: ‘OK, all these notes I’ve compiled might be something.’ For me, it was thinking about the way we cede control over our lives to algorithms and rely more and more on numbers to determine our own worth and the worth of other things, whether it’s art, humans, restaurants, or basically anything we interact with on a daily basis. Where is this going if we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity or something that can’t be reportedly measured? Why are we so happy to cede decision-making and value assessment to algorithms? What’s it say about us?”
Published in 2013, Eggers’ The Circle centered on surveillance and eventually inspired a Tom Hanks/John Boyega/Emma Watson film. In it, a company called The Circle develops an always-on streaming camera small enough to be unnoticeable, and the device becomes wildly popular. The central character, a low-level employee named Mae, eventually helps the device reach those heights by adopting a totally transparent lifestyle. She allows virtually all of her day-to-day interactions to be live-streamed on this Twitch-like ecosystem, complete with running comment threads and DMs. As you might expect, it’s not always smooth sailing, and the ramifications can be dark.
The Every quickly asserts itself as a logical progression from its literary forebear. Moving past simply recording everything, this world now revolves around measuring everything so that technology can spit out directions. Prior to the events in the novel, The Circle was part of a mega-merger and evolved into The Every, a company with its hands in seemingly everything: consumer tech, media, digital storage, space, food, etc. (If this sounds like a reference to a certain real-life analogue, that “e-commerce giant named after a South American jungle” was acquired by The Every ahead of the events in the new book.) Mae has risen to CEO and oversees an empire driven by numbers and ruthless efficiency. The Every’s health app tells you when to get up and jump at your desk. The Every’s storage solution will digitize all your belongings as 3D-printable files so you can incinerate your waste and lower your carbon footprint. Media from The Every is driven by data-tracking technology that can tell when readers/viewers/listeners tend to abandon ship; it then tells creators how to improve.
Eggers’ new tale focuses on a young woman named Delaney. She’s a Trog, or someone who sets out to live a low-tech lifestyle, including opting out of having smart devices in her home and staying away from certain public places that require people to check in. Along with her tech-savvy (though still Trog-y) friend and roommate Wes, the two aim to take down The Every before every public space and natural area is leveraged for data gathering. But how can you solve a problem like The Every? The duo has a plan, and suddenly Delaney finds herself going through a complicated interview process to become an Everyone (yes, that’s what employees at The Every are called).
“The Circle was more about surveillance and whether privacy is possible,” said Eggers. “This is more about whether we want to exercise free will on a daily basis, or are we happier to have these algorithms feed us and free us of all these decisions and anxieties? What if there was one monopoly who promised to make you your best self so long as you basically gave up control over every decision?”