1 January 2022

The Every – Dave Eggers

“You see the Secretary of State use a few today?” Wes asked. “He was celebrating the anniversary of glasnost, and he used a dancing rainbow. On the official state account. Our species has no dignity. No path to dignity.”

Each day for six months now, Delaney had sent her friends and relatives twenty or so Popeye pics and they reciprocated. The Every had begun the trend, had engineered it to gather location data and examine sundry data points about human behavior, and a billion people had been only too happy to comply, because the fun of taking pictures with a corncob pipe between one’s teeth was impossible to resist and, in its own small way, united the world’s people.

The next morning, unprompted, he explained it. His moms, he said, were loving, were devoted, but never said the words, but he liked the words, especially in the dark, before sleep. He liked to say them and hear them, he said, so as a boy he’d begun to say them to himself, turning his head one way then the other: Love you/You too. “And I do love you,” he’d said to Delaney, “so I say it.” He’d assured her that she didn’t need to say it back, given how unusual it was in her world (she was from Idaho) for two friends, roommates, to say such things to each other. But she found she wanted it, too. She so coveted the words, counted on them, thought during the day of these unacceptable words he’d say to her through the wall at night. “I love you,” he said that first night. “I thank you,” she said that night and every night thereafter.

In a hack presumed to be orchestrated by Russia, the complete email histories of over four billion people had been made public. Just as with the hack of Sony by North Korea, jobs were lost, reputations ruined, marriages crushed and friendships shattered. The emails were passed around gleefully by tens of millions, and the media – its last, lost patrols – printed and discussed those emails that revealed hypocrisy or corruption by the powerful, the wealthy, the famous, and many others who were none of those things. And after six months of handwringing, recrimination, a few thousand murders and perhaps a half-million suicides, the world forgot about the Release, and what it said about our means of communication and who stored and controlled it, and simply accommodated it, kneeling before new masters. From then on, every message written by every human was assumed to be subject to exposure – to be permanently searchable and public.

an app that calculates the month and year of your death. It’s outside my usual field, but I had the idea one day and everyone was very supportive. Have you heard of this already?” Delaney had ceased breathing. She shook her head, no. “It’s 91 percent effective,” Jenny Butler said, “but we’ll be able to get that number up a bit. This doesn’t cover people dying of freak accidents, things like that. But based on lifestyle, diet, habits, genetics, geography, and a few hundred other inputs, we can zero in pretty well. The month, for sure—and we’re getting closer to knowing the day. I found it a great comfort when I did mine.

It was like curing their child of a meth dependency only to have her school require that its students maintain, at all times, a low-level high. Meanwhile, the school continued to warn about social media and the black hole of screentime. They prohibited phones in the classroom while allowing laptops, which the students easily jerry-rigged to show porn and pet videos. The educators lamented the diminishing attention span of their students and the obsessive digital contact from parents, while requiring that students have internet access to complete even the most basic tasks, and issuing every parental permission slip and directive through digital-only conduits.

At an all-school assembly on Friday, a guest speaker would exhort the students to spend the weekend offline and away from all devices, and throughout the day, Delaney’s instructors would each assign weekend homework that could not be completed or turned in without looking at a screen.

The news of her grandmother’s death was delivered by weeping Pac-Man. When Delaney confronted her parents, they couldn’t recognize the transgression.

A person would type or dictate a text, and TruVoice would scan the message for any of the Os – offensive, offputting, outrageous, off-color, off-base, out-of-date. O-language would be excised or substituted, and the message would be sent in a manner fit for posterity.

My mom is Chinese, so I could apply for a Permission to Say, but the AI is just noting the word Oriental is on the O-list. So I just need to explain I was referring to a rug. Then I get those points back.

The medical professions had been decimated by doubt and litigation, with the vast majority of patients preferring AI diagnoses over those of humans, which they considered recklessly subjective.

During the second pandemic, new laws were rushed through all over the world, giving all citizens the right to know who had a virus and where they likely got it.

The same cameras that were occasionally used to broadcast evil were used, a million times a day, for preventing it, reporting it, holding perpetrators accountable. Purse-snatchings, red-light runnings, cop shootings, racial profilings – every violation of human rights was liable to be caught on camera, and the perpetrators brought quickly to justice. The occasional misuse of the technology was an unfortunate byproduct of the new paradigm, but it was, Mae thought – and most thought – an acceptable tradeoff for the increased safety felt among most of the planet’s people. The observed world, the filmed world, the recorded world, was a safer world. But then there was something like this, a live-streamed death.

“I like AuthentiFriend,” Holstein said, and with this resolution, Carlo and Shireen both seemed to collapse with relief. Someone had made a decision.

The inexorable rise in suicides these last twenty years is so obviously a result of two entwined products of the digital age – the catastrophic health effects of manic (and largely meaningless) mental activity, and the lack of real purpose. No one is resting, and no one is accomplishing anything of real worth. It is, instead, the endless churning of middlebrow nonsense, of smiles, frowns, Popeyes, How U/Me fine, that keeps us from meaningful contemplation, or any hope of a new idea.

This was followed by seventy-six messages from a fourth of the forty-two Point Reyes attendees, most with links to bombastic articles and messages about the rightness or wrongness of Israel vis à vis Palestine and what any given Everyone would be saying by eating sandwiches made by a man (and his staff) who were so proud of Israel and its misdeeds that he so jingoistically would pose with its flag on a luxurious beach of oppression. (...) Kiki was careful to explain, in a series of messages she wrote with, no doubt, a lawyer over her shoulder, that the Every did not take a political position on Israel-Palestine, and at the same time did not want to silence those on either side of the debate, and at the same time still, did not want to force anyone into supporting, monetarily or otherwise, any proponent of any one nation or flag or people or policy. Opting out of an activity like this was the choice that most respected all sides, and this opt-out option the Every fully supported. This was Day Two. There were four more days before the excursion. Is the bus using plant-based fuel? one attendee asked.

Where’s the new list? And was it really a pdf? Why not an EveryDoc? This was accompanied by a link to the dangers of pdfs, given the countless times that viruses had been attached to them.

Every person who gets up to speak has to be more wounded and more outraged than the one before. De-escalation is not fashionable in these contexts.

Yes, we are still in a free society where anyone can write anything they wish. But how do people see these writings? If you spend most of your online life in Every platforms, you might see only that which they promote. You might be presented with a wide array of content, all of it approved by the Every, and in line with whatever ideology or business interests they have. This is not to say that a person in a democratic society could not access information that the Every is not endorsing. But how many people will? How many people live in a state of aggressive truth-seeking? The answer is few. (...) People think the world is out of control. They want someone to stop the changes. This aligns perfectly with what the Every is doing: feeding the urge to control, to reduce nuance, to categorize, and to assign numbers to anything inherently complex. To simplify. To tell us how it will be. An authoritarian promises these things, too.

The bottom 10 percent of every department was being let go, via text, determined by an algorithm. (...) “The algos don’t see it,” Joan said. “He spent too much time giving talks and not enough time on measurables. He’s interesting and prominent and all that, but he lost track of what can be tracked.”

“As you know, for decades now, we have been given the right to know if sexual predators are living among us. Whether these criminals were caught with child porn or were convicted of assault, we have the right to know where they live.” (...) “And yet we’re deprived of the right to know what other criminals live and walk among us. The Sexual Offender Registry came into effect in the 1990s, and still, in all those years since, we have no registry of addresses for those convicted of murder, assault, burglary, or any other felony or misdemeanor.