The Every, Dave Eggers, review: From Amazon to Google, the internet is terrifying

In the near future, the internet is dominated by the world’s wealthiest corporation. This is the “Every” of the novel’s title, a behemoth which best resembles today’s “Faang” companies in combination – imagine Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google all rolled into one.

Our heroine is Delaney Wells and she wants to destroy the Every. She hates its erosion of personal freedom, the ways it has “transformed proud and free animals – humans – and made them into endlessly acquiescent dots on screens”.

The story is set in a San Francisco that has been almost wholly subsumed by tech. Those few who opt out are called Trogs. As well as Delaney, they include her sidekick Wes, an amiable anti-authoritarian nerd. Many of them live in a small district called TrogTown, where they eschew smartphones, buy paper newspapers and roam public spaces free of surveillance cameras. Elsewhere, everything digital holds sway.

Delaney has played a long game. From her teenage years she has built up relevant qualifications and experience in order to infiltrate the Every. She must go through a nerve-racking series of interviews, but with Wes’s invaluable coding support, she manages to get hired. Once on the inside, she is poised to wreak havoc.

Dave Eggers made his name in 2000 with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, an innovative memoir about raising his younger brother when their parents died. Since then he has been prolific, with much of his output consisting of satirical novels in which he brings his quirky perspective to bear. The results are both comic and disturbing.

This is not the first time he has tackled the internet – The Every is a sequel to 2018’s The Circle. Fortunately, it is not necessary to have read that to fully engage with its successor, though a notable character in each is Mae Holland, the Every’s power-crazed CEO.

Delaney tries to torpedo the company by dreaming up new apps she considers so outrageously invasive that they are bound to turn the populace against it. Her first effort is “AuthentiFriend”, which ranks the sincerity of friendships by using lie-detection algorithms. But just about everyone loves it, heedless of its capacity for ruining relationships.

Another rogue app is “Takes a Village”, which allows the public to film and tag children for social deviance. It, too, is a huge success, despite its appalling intrusions into family life. The not-so-silent majority trumpets its support for the apps on social media, indifferent to civil liberties. Delaney is baffled. “Nothing goes too far,” she says. “Nothing’s breaking.”

Successful satire majors on ideas and insights, and the imagination of Eggers runs riot to dazzling effect in his first couple of hundred pages. Alas, he doesn’t quit while he is ahead, instead continuing for more than 300 more. Consequently, the novel begins to flag and sag. Plot twists become predictable, and characters never credibly develop.

Nevertheless Eggers does us a service in underlining the sinister
directions tech is taking. The Circle was criticised when it appeared for exaggerating the internet’s potential for disrupting civil society. In retrospect, those criticisms seem naive. The ability of corporate tech to undermine democracy, create online addiction, fuel rampant consumerism and generally horribly mess with our lives has become deeply worrying. In its timing, The Every is right on the cryptocurrency.

The Every, by Dave Eggers, is published by Hamish Hamilton at £12.99

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