The Every revolves around Delaney Wells and her efforts to take down the company from within, one bad idea at a time. The problem is that these bad ideas are so bad that they are good. What is disconcerting is how many of these ideas actually already exist in their infancy in the world around us.
Like Thomas More’s Utopia, the novel serves as a dystopian thought experiment. It explores what if the ideas of algorithmic organisation were taken to the nth degree. To communicate this, Eggers uses Delaney’s rotations through the different departments to systemically explore the workings at the company. Some have been critical of bias:
I wished, often, to be allowed to come to my own conclusions, exercise my own subjectivity — that same endangered faculty the novel mourns.
However, as Lea suggests, that does not seem to be Eggers’ purpose to ‘scare us straight’.
It is also interesting to consider the way in which Eggers’ addresses the challenge of global warming and compare this with something like The Ministry for the Future. Although The Every’s cancellation of travel and purchasing of goods which are not in season achieve the desired outcome in regards to global warming, the stripping of free will makes this problematic. In an interview for the book, Eggers argues that:
Meaningful change isn’t achieved with torches and pitchforks. It happens with reason, with evidence, with compassion and with long conversations.
For Kim Stanley Robinson, there is a place for certain incentives, restrictions and technological solutions, however it all seems a little less crude.
In the end, the book is hopeful. As Daniel Gumbiner touches on, the book is hopeful that maybe there is another way:
Strangely, this is a hopeful book. Though it often feels like our technological straightjackets are inevitable, non-negotiable accessories of modern life, The Every reminds us that they are not, that we are born into this world every day with choices, and that collectively, we have been choosing one way of being, and continue to choose it. What would it look like to continue on this path? What would it look like to choose something else? These are the questions at the core of The Every, a book which makes a real argument, and serves to remind us, as all great books do, of something we already knew, ourselves, to be true.
For Cory Doctorow, it serves as a uncomfortable reminder that stays with us a long time afterwards.
Eggers is doing something hard and weird and important here, making us confront the degree to which crisis makes us willing to accept authoritarianism, making us face up to the warm comfort of subjugating ourselves to someone else’s automated will.
For a book that is often hilarious, and always a page-turner, this is an awfully uncomfortable read, and it stays with you afterward, lingering and surfacing every time you brush up against the technology in your life.
In the end, the only question I was left wonder is the ‘straight’ this novel is scaring us to? I guess that might be for another novel.