Dave Eggers' heartbreaking list of staggering tech concerns: 'We're never unstudied'

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In Dave Eggers’ latest sci-fi dystopian vision, Each, the apps rate your friendships and that of your parents and tell you how much you enjoyed your last meal. Tracking technology under the guise of security concerns has made surveillance even in the wild mandatory. Worse: Eye-tracking hardware makes sure you read every word of every user agreement, agreement, or legal disclosure.

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This is a near future where current technological trends are advanced enough to land in a depressing place somewhere between the inevitable and the absurd.

And it’s really chilling stuff.

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Like so many headlines from Eggers’ long-running humor site, McSweeney’s Internet Trend, the full title of the book tells the whole story and its author’s stance on the subject. It spans two pages in large-variety print: The Every or At Last a Sense of Order or The Final Days of Free Will or Limitless Choice Is Killing the World.

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The Avery is now out of the books at McSweeney’s independent booksellers.

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The 500-page satire is the sequel to the novelist and journalist Best-selling 2013 novel The Circle. It returns us to that familiar parallel reality, in which the world’s largest online retailer (referred to only by its nickname, “The Jungle”) has merged with The Circle, itself a merged Google-Facebook entity. bears a strong resemblance.

The Avery is published by McSweeney The books are available split and as a hardcover edition exclusively through independent bookstores. The paperback, e-book, and audio versions will be available everywhere, including on Amazon, on November 16th.

“I think generally speaking, humanity has spoken, and humanity has said they want Monopoly,” Eggers told me via a landline phone from his office in downtown San Francisco.

The author doesn’t have a smartphone, has almost zero social media presence and does most of his writing on a pristine laptop, which he says is never connected to the Internet. (Good to know that Clippy might still be alive somewhere!) Conducting our interviews via Zoom or any other video platform was never an option.

Unsurprisingly for such a coveted Luddite, Eggers isn’t so comfortable with the monopoly power of tech companies that collect server farms of our personal information, track our activities, preferences and, to a lesser extent, our deepest thoughts.

“As a species,” he says, “we have proved that we want convenience, security, certainty, all these things that are made possible through data and surveillance, and we want humanity, freedom and mystery. We’re not as interested in it as we are, of course, in convenience and safety.”

In The Circle, which was adapted into a 2017 film Starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson of the same name, Eggers explores the dangers of the Silicon Valley social media surveillance system most of them voluntarily chose years ago. The story follows protagonist Mai Holland and her rise from idealistic college graduate to top exec in The Circle. By the end, Holland turns on the company Kool-Aid in a monstrous drubbing, convinced of the correctness of the Circle’s supremacist mission and willfully blind to its destructive potential.

In My The Avery returns as the head of the new mega-company. But the sequel focuses on a more idealistic young protagonist, Delaney Wells, and Mae, the final boss Delaney will inevitably face after working her way through the corporate maze. Unlike Mae, however, Delaney embarks on the subversive mission of attempting to destroy The Avery from inside. Inspired by the destruction of their family’s small business at the hands of The Jungle, Delaney and her roommate/colleague Wes conspired to seed all kinds of supposedly terrifying product ideas within the company as they rise through its ranks. Huh.

Eggers told me that he didn’t have to look far to find inspiration for ideas like these. He points to a passage on how to measure laughter at the office because laughing is thought to be good for your health.

“There was a design firm here in San Francisco that was measuring laughter, for the same reason that scientists said it was cool. So then they said, ‘Okay, the next obvious thing is to have a device in the conference room. We must measure how much we laugh, and that will tell us how healthy our company is.’ It’s far beyond what Monty Python or anyone would have dreamed of, but it really happened.”

Eggers embeds his warnings into a deeply hilarious narrative that not only hits close to home. It burns down the house and then puts on cold storage all the insurance adjusters who come to the scene to offer redemption.

Delaney and Wes continued to escalate as a violent reaction to The Avery began to become more bold. They support an app that allows people to film and tag abused children with tracking chips embedded in their ankles, among many other considerations that may protect the public’s needs for privacy, independence or basic mental health. fail to have the desired effect of provoking anxiety.

Primarily, the company and the dopamine-addicted public embrace each increasingly absurd and scandalous new offering with a sense of blissful gluttony.

While The Circle explores the potential of our ubiquitous technology to corrupt the individual, The Avery goes further – like its main characters – to emphasize the pervasive dystopia that exists alongside the shiny, futuristic techtopia sold by Silicon Valley. carried forward. This is no metaphor: in the novel, a literal shack is set up outside the gates of The Avery’s ancient compound.

The Har, like The Circle before it, reads like an exaggerated, ridiculous version of real life. Wired and others First book criticized for wrong aspects of internet and other technologies.

But today we are swimming in the wake of two US presidential campaigns (and arguably one presidential) largely via social media and against the online tide of pandemic and vaccine misinformation. From this vantage point in 2021, Eggers’ visions come across as more clairvoyant than cartoon.

‘Unprecedented path of fury’

Eggers initially rose to fame in the late 1990s in the tail end of the Web 1.0 era and the original dot-com boom. He founded McSweeney in 1998, and his widely acclaimed memoir, a heartwarming work of staggering genius It earned him literary rock star status when he came out in 2000.

The book came out during a difficult year for me and anyone else getting a foothold in technology. I dropped out of college for a job in San Francisco I didn’t qualify for and rapidly sold the company, the dot-com bubble of the 1990s finally burst and the tech-focused publishing I closed. I was back to finish college in less than half a year.

As much as for The Avery Delaney, the experience of being uprooted to chase that silicon dream only to return to my Midwestern University campus after a while left me feeling a little burned out by technology. All that time I was reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and, inspired by Eggers, doubled down on writing and journalism. I was captivated by the tragic theme of my parents’ death and the playful way in which his sudden obligation to raise my younger brother while he was still a young adult.

Eggers’ trademark irreverent style is also present on the copyright notices for his books. Before her heartbreaking work begins, the copyright reads:

Published in the United States by Simon & Schuster, a division of a larger and more powerful company called Viacom, Inc. Soviet republics united and tripled. That said, no matter how much money they have or earn or control, they have an impact on the daily lives and hearts of individuals, and thus, like ninety-nine percent of what is done by authoritarians in cities like Washington, or Moscow. , or So Paulo or Auckland, their influence on the short, nomadic lives of humans, who limp around and dream of flying through the bloodstream, who love the smell of rubber cement and raved about space travel while having intercourse. I think, very, very small, and so hardly worth worrying about.

Twenty-one years ago I was inspired by this little scrap of Beat poetry that was hidden behind a title page. But when I read it again in 2021, my reaction was WTF? Eggers began his famous career by declaring in letters that corporate monopoly power was “hardly something to worry about?”

When I spoke with Eggers on the phone, I read him the full excerpt from that 21-year copyright notice and asked him how the writers of The Circle and The Avery feel about the final sentence in 2021 today.

“I would say that my ideas evolved from that,” he tells me with a laugh. “The big five tech companies are infinitely more powerful than Viacom expected. … A new thing in the history of mankind is that you have to hold a tether via your smartphone in order to participate in a commercial society or a democratic society You are never immoral. And we are never illiterate.”

In The Avery, a company studies the data of countless e-readers with built-in eye-tracking to determine the formula for the ideal novel. Here’s a particularly interesting passage:

“We got a lot of stuff!” Alessandro said. “The total number of pages is quite clear. No book should exceed 500 pages, and if it exceeds 500, we found that one’s absolute limit of tolerance is 577.”

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