Often when writers say they hate the internet, what they mean is they don’t understand it.
These type of “writers”, the kind of writers who’d describe themselves as “serious writers”, who’d behave as if they’re “above” social media, are one of the many target Jarett Kobek skewers in this hilarious satirical novel from 2016.
I’ve been meaning to read I Hate The Internet for years: I should have done it sooner because it’s perfect, it’s wonderful, I loved it, I could barely put it down, I wanted to start it all over again when I finished. It is – dare I say it – the best contemporary novel about internet culture that I’ve ever read, though – as I feel Kobek would be the first to admit – who/what is it actually competing for that title with? No one I can think of. Kobek may have cheated his way to the critical top of a subgenre (“internet fiction”) by virtue of being the only novelist writing about the internet who actually seems to use it. Then again, Kobek doesn’t seem to have much of a personal web presence, so maybe he’s no better than the big “establishment American novelist” types who he mocks here. Maybe the difference, then, is that Kobek understands why he hates the internet, rather than just hating it as an idea because it confuses him.
That Kobek isn’t active on Twitter has honestly taken me aback. That Googling I Hate The Internet – quite probably the greatest contemporary novel written in English by a man I’ve read in years – didn’t overload my screen with gushing praise has astounded me. Kobek’s novel is fucking phenomenal. Kobek’s novel is wise and intelligent, it writes about the validity and essentialism of the internet, the normalcy with which it has entered our lives and the impossibility of altering the long-standing sense of ubiquity which many of us associate with it. Kobek writes about how the internet and the popular culture that it disseminates and is influenced by reflect back on each other, he writes about how the modes of communication and the media that people choose to circulate damage themselves. Kobek writes about how ludicrous it is that people talk about social media platforms as bastions of free speech, when they are – of course – hugely successful and profitable privately-owned businesses. But they’re privately-owned businesses that – increasingly – we don’t feel we can step away from, at least in some guise.
Facebook’s (the platform, not the company) popularity and cultural import has dramatically decreased over the past couple of years but, as that has changed, apps that are owned by Facebook have become ever-more significant: Instagram continues to grow in popularity, and WhatsApp has somehow become the standard vector through which waddles the vast majority of communication of most people I know. Facebook, the company, is a fucking powerful thing. We cannot demolish these systems, systems that use data to advertise on a massive, targetted, scale and increasingly influence politics. We cannot stop using them because they are how we communicate, we have adapted to the social media age like we adapted to every other technological change since we invented fire.
No, humanity will not go back to only talking to people via letters as much as we will never go back to almost everyone dying in the places we were born: we will not lose the internet (no matter how many people hate it and understand why and how they hate it) any more than we will lose industrialised farming or we will lose the very capitalist systems that cause the gross inequality across the world that the internet in turn perpetuates.
Money money money money. Kobek writes about how the structures of the internet are deeply invested in the status quo. We may regularly refer to the present as “late capitalism”, but we are continuing to propagate and maintain societies that aim towards the continuance of this: in fact, the coming climate-induced societal collapse is likely to only allow for the forwards existence of the world’s very richest and the robots that render the rest of us superfluous. Climate change, which becomes an ever-more important topic as society races towards its self-immolation, is a result of the internet, too, of the normalisation of technology and the massive power drain that it all fucking is.
Anyway, I’m mainly just regurgitiating the ideas and statements of Kobek’s novel, but in a way that isn’t as engaging or as witty as his book.
The novel is set in San Francisco about three to ten years ago. It’s about Silicon Valley and tech start-ups. It’s about venture capitalists and how many investment funds are run in such a way that encourages short term gains and long term losses, though the losses are – of course – picked up by someone else. It’s about games of huge financial chicken, and how the lives of “normal” people are fucking wrapped up in these dirty Randyan machinations, innit.
I Hate The Internet blends fiction and fact, reportage and anecdote and funny funny things. I laughed an absolute hell of a lot, it’s fucking hilarious. I also learned a lot, though perhaps was sometimes a little uncertain where the fiction ended and the fact began, or visa fucking versa. It doesn’t matter – though maybe it does to some losers – because this is bang bang perfect slipstream prose, this is tight and tense and discursive and filled with disgressions and facts and it’s very very sharp. I’d call it “razor sharp” but I don’t want to. Knife sharp. Glass sharp. It’s pointed, and it’s probably pointed at you, if you use the internet or have anything at all to do with it.
I’ll be recommending this to people for a while, I’m afraid, because Jarett Kobek’s I Hate The Internet is a perfect novel. Buy buy buy buy buy buy buy.
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