Dave Eggers takes on today’s tech culture again in The Every. No password required.
“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy” F. Scott Fitzgerald once warned.
In Dave Eggers’ premonitory, sardonic and more than frightening new novel, The whole, its protagonist Delaney Wells sets out to destroy a social media tech giant – imagine the worst traits of Facebook, Google and Amazon combined – from the inside out. It’s a chimerical quest, Voltaire‘s Candid updated to meet the new challenges of the frighteningly encroaching information superhighway, obscuring the utopian vocabulary of a totalitarian Silicon Valley business empire.
The whole thing is a sequel to Eggers’ 2013 bestseller, The circle, which portrays the rise of Mae Holland, a relatively innocent who joins “the most powerful internet company in the world” with the help of a college friend who is a rising star there, to be inducted slowly but inexorably in the tentacles of its ever-expanding expansion.
In the new book, Delaney, a former ranger raised by hippie parents whose mom-and-pop organic food store was forced out of the growing FolkFoods conglomerate, is hired by The Every, the still larger than the circle has turned into, after paying its membership fee in a start-up recently acquired by the Circle. His liberal arts background is also interesting, but more specifically his college thesis, Mastery of the benevolent market, about “the madness of the antitrust actions against The Circle, given that it was a monopoly was irrelevant if that’s what people wanted… uninhibited?” “
It’s a false flag – she despises the company and everything it stands for – but hopes she will induct him into her ranks without seeing through the subterfuge.
We are far from the flamboyant beginnings of Eggers, A heartbreaking work of astonishing genius, a non-fiction account of the circumstances under which he was left, at age 21, to raise his 8-year-old brother after the sudden death of both parents.
He is a decidedly original element of the Bay Area scene, as founder of the publishing house and quarterly magazine McSweeney, and co-founder of 826 Valencia, the writing and tutoring center for youth nonprofit based in the Mission District. And he has the courage, and the moxie, of his convictions: The whole thing is initially sold – are you listening, Amazon? – only in independent bookstores and via McSweeney’s online store.
The novel is a satirical and angry indictment of the culture in which we are currently submerged.
Delaney plots to kill The Every with kindness, inundating them with bad ideas like GenuPal, which measures the veracity of your friends through AI algorithms that analyze people’s “facial expression, eye contact, and voice contact”. It is formed by true believers who constantly monitor not only fitness and health, but even laughter – a minimum of 22 minutes per day is recommended – and use TruVoice online communication filters to analyze messages in order to see if they contain “any of the O’s – offensive, off -putting, outrageous, off-color, offbase, out-of-date”, so that they can be properly excised.
George orwell was right: Big Brother lives.
Eggers takes on all the selfish clichés and corporate talk you’ve ever heard. No spoiler alerts here, but let’s just say the good guys are struggling here. It paints a compelling portrait of how Big Tech, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, resulted in a series of unintended consequences. Mission accomplished.
That the record also reflects that he is not a Luddite – the latest issue of McSweeney‘s Quarterly Concern is fully audio, featuring audiovisual art, fiction, and booklets from writers and storytellers and packaged in a special personalized box.
We are far from the catastrophic culture Eggers chronicles. Nevertheless, at the risk of sounding rude, I hope The whole marks the end of this particular cycle of dystopian stories. The author of A heartbreaking work of astonishing genius clearly has the talent and passion for other tales. I can not wait.