Why this book: I had just read and been fascinated by The Circle. I wanted to read the sequel and this is that sequel.
Summary in 4 sentences. The book The Every picks up the story of the corporation The Circle eight years later, after having acquired “The Jungle” (Amazon), and having changed it’s corporate name from “The Circle,” to “The Every,” as it continues to expand and increase in power and influence, acquiring several new companies every week. Delaney Wells had grown up in Idaho active in the outdoors when she became addicted to social media and a rehabilitation program helped her realize the insidiousness of not only social media but all of the different ways in which The Every was quietly taking over the lives of people all over the world. She makes it her life’s mission to stop this juggernaut, and decides to try to find a way to destroy The Every from within. She eventually is able to get work inside The Every and her plan is to keep suggesting new ideas to help The Every reach deeper and deeper into people’s lives, each idea more outlandish than the last, until there would be a blow-back reaction and the public would rise up and resist.
My Impressions: Powerful! Impactful! Highly recommended – not only as a good story but VERY relevant to the world in which we live day. A satire of people’s willingness to hand over their lives to technologies, computers and smart phones, and a dystopian look at where current trends are leading.
The Circle was published in 2013, and this sequel was published in 2021 and includes many of the same characters, and The Every is farther down the path that The Circle was on in 2013. And indeed, I read nearly everyday in the WSJ or NYT of new steps and developments in our culture of oversight and safety that relate to the world that Eggers foresees and warns against in his book The Every.
The Every is The Circle “on steroids” – both as a novel and as an organization. As a novel, it is more complex and ambitious than The Circle. “The Every” is also the name of the organization into which The Circle evolved, after it purchases “The Jungle” a thinly veiled reference to Amazon, and integrates it into its vision and operations. The Every is Google, Facebook, Amazon all in one organization, sharing data, goals, plans objectives – with an enormous amount of information, wealth, power and influence. The Every becomes a monopoly that would “make the Dutch East India company look like a lemonade stand.” As with The Circle, I listened to The Every – about 14 hours, which went by pretty quickly – well-narrated and compelling.
Delaney Well’s plan, with help from her housemate and good friend Wes, is to win credibility within the The Every organization by proposing increasingly preposterous ideas that would increase its power and support its vision of creating its “perfect world.” Delaney hoped The Every would embrace and implement these preposterous ideas and that they would snowball to the point that reasonable people would rebel and either bring The Every down or somehow significantly limit its power and influence. When she and Wes proposed an idea, she feared that it was going too far, but each time, the crazy idea was embraced and even taken further in the degree to which it would invade people’s privacy, increase oversight and social pressure, and reduce their autonomy. To her surprise and disappointment, there was little resistance from the public when these ideas were implemented – all because they offered increased safety, transparency, social accountability, and protection of the environment. All good things, right? No “insurrection” ensues.
There are certain going-in assumptions that drive The Every and all it does. People want order, safety, predictability, and comfort, at almost any cost. And they want to be told what to do in order to achieve these things. The Every seeks to provide that guidance. They also want accountability (of others) and justice, so that those who transgress against the law and social norms will be caught, corrected and held accountable. Ideally the thought is that with near total accountability and surveillance, people will be deterred from committing these transgressions in the first place – another reason why The Every’s initiatives win support. The Every considers it completely appropriate and effective to shame people publicly to inspire proper and virtuous behavior. People comply primarily out of fear.
The Every also seeks to mobilize the civilized world to save the planet, by reducing waste of food and other resources, and by dramatically reducing the use of carbon fuels. Every person gets a Personal Carbon Impact score, based on the decisions they make and that score is made public. All of these initiatives require data, which needs to be measured, tracked and interpreted, in order that behavior can be improved. Numbers provide clarity. “There’s never been any resistance among any significant part of the human race to attaching a number to any aspect of their existence. People want order. Above all things, people want order.”
On the surface, it may sound like a good idea. Protecting the environment and helping people improve their lives through technology are not evil goals. Imposing virtue thru shame and fear, however, eventually creates Stasi-like oversight, or a CCP-like system of social credits and behavioral compliance. Delaney Wells is horrified by such privacy-invading surveillance, and the practice of dehumanizing human behavior into quantifiables that can be dissected, measured and graded. Most people however do not place great value on their independence and privacy, and are often too ready to give up personal liberty and privacy for the free stuff, comfort and security that The Every offers, and for convenience, safety, and order.
One of the most interesting characters in the book is Delaneys college professor Professor Agarwal who regularly writes Delaney about the dangers of big tech, of people ready to sacrifice their humanity and personal lives for the conveniences that Big Tech offers, noting how such conveniences and apps are destroying the best parts of our culture. Though Delaney agrees with her, she can’t communicate with her because she knows that everything she does is monitored by The Every, and contact with Prof Agarwal would compromise her and her intent with The Every. Agarwal’s voice serves as the conscience of traditional American values speaking out against the new Tech. One of the reviews of The Every that I read noted that thru Agarwal, Eggers was really channelling the voice of Shoshana Zuboffs – the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.
The Every is a satire of very politically correct woke culture, but it is also a warning against the world that those who would impose their brand of virtue on the rest of us could look like. There were a number of laugh-out-loud moments, but then I would read in the paper that something similar is being proposed or implemented somewhere in our country. It is full of bumper stickers such as “Limitless choice is killing the world!” or “Fewer Choices, Everyone rejoices!” It is also full of new-age politically correct language – to fire someone is to “dehire” them. There are no “homeless:’ there are the “unhoused.” People who worked at The Every were referred to as “Everyones” and many words that referred to disapproved activities were banned within The Every. The Every did not receive glowing reviews from the Washington Post or New York Times, but did from The Guardian. I loved it and would highly recommend it.
The Every includes initiatives and apps such as:
Shaming – posting videos of people doing anything that might justify public chastising – littering, jaywalking, speeding, changing lanes without signaling, talking too loudly, or berating a waitress. These are meant to shame people into better behavior and add up to one’s personal shame aggregate.
Are You Sure? (AYS?) Every time you make a decision which requires an online component, such as purchasing something, or buying an airline ticket. a pop-up comes onto your computer or phone asking “are you sure” you want to buy that item which you may not need, or make that decision which is not socially appropriate, or may increase your carbon footprint and have negative environmental impact? And then it gives you more ecologically/socially appropriate alternatives.
TruVoice – When speaking or writing, TruVoice monitors your language and offers you better alternatives to pronouns, or potentially racist or demeaning language, or other terms which are not consistent with virtuous, socially acceptable, or well-educated behavior.
Thoughts, NOT Things which offers to help declutter people’s lives by creating archives of pictures of things you own, and suggesting that you keep the photos as memories, and then therefore, destroy the unnecessary wasteful items.
Stop and Look – a movement to discourage (with shaming) travel which increases carbon in the atmosphere, and tourism which has had negative impact on other cultures. Stay and Look offers the more virtuous alternative of staying home and visiting other places w VR glasses.
Friendie – is an AI app which interprets the other person’s facial expressions and tones of voice in video phone calls for honesty and sincerity. As you’re speaking with someone, the app gives a score as to the honesty and sincerity of the person with whom you are talking in real time as they’re speaking. You can do this with or without their permission.
Personal Carbon Impact score measures what carbon impact one’s purchases and activities are having on the planet and climate. One’s PCI score is public, changes with one’s decisions, and gives credit to those with a low PCI score, and shames those with a high PCI.
Own Self a health app which constantly monitors your health and reminds you of what you SHOULD be doing to maintain optimal health – when you should be going to bed, interrupting your day to do specific exercises to maintain an adequate level of fitness, monitoring your blood, heart rate, stress levels and other biometrics to tell you what to do to be healthy, what to eat, when to exercise, etc
Did I? measures a climax during sex, to validate that an orgasm did occur, to permit comparison w previous orgasms or those of friends.
Fixfict – an AI that improve fiction -taking out obsolete or offensive language and updates it to meet today’s norms and standards, improves the plots so that they better fit today’s norms for “good literature.”