In The Every (McSweeney's. Nov.) Egger's sequel to The Circle, a near-future tech monopoly uses algorithms and surveillance to control people.
The theme of surveillance runs heavily through The Every. Talk to me a little bit about how you approached it and what informed your thinking.
I’ll answer in terms of the characters in the book. Everything said on the Every campus is recorded and then analyzed by AI for any potential wrongness. And then there are certain words that you have to get permission to say, essentially. The leaders of the Every think they can perfect humanity by having a closed ecosystem and 24/7 surveillance—and that they are uniquely qualified to protect and defend what they deem right, and prevent any wrong action or sentiment.
And then in real life, you’ll have a high schooler who tweets something when they’re 16 and has been canceled. I think it’s definitely a culture that lacks the ability to forgive. I think that we have to open our hearts a bit and allow people to develop and improve. I think and I hope, because I believe in humanity, that we will find our way to move on to being a forgiving culture.
It’s surprising to hear that you’re even a little optimistic, because the book does not feel particularly hopeful. Is part of your hope expressed in trying to create a warning?
That’s the point of this kind of fiction, to present a dark path that might be avoided when you wake up, in the hopes that people say, “I don’t want to live there. I don’t want that to be our reality.”
Like, what would happen if it became a law that you had to have audio surveillance in your house? I think there’s a 50/50 chance that we’re going there within 10 years, because it’s very hard to defend not having it in your house. On the one hand, you have the right to privacy. On the other hand, it might make families safer and protect children that otherwise might be in harm’s way at home.
People seem much more willing to let corporations influence their day-to-day lives than the government. Were you thinking about how the resistance to mask mandates and vaccines was playing out as you wrote the book?
You nailed something I thought about a lot, which essentially cuts against a theory I explored for the book, that people have a limitless tolerance for surveillance and enforced behaviors. When you write a book like this, you have to sometimes leave out some exceptions, but I think mask-wearing and vaccine-getting is much more visceral to people than the slow, pot-burning cumulative effect of digital surveillance, passive trolling, passive surveillance, passive acquiescence.