I really loved this book. It keeps getting called a book about “being extremely online” and while that’s kind of true, it obscures what the book is really doing (in the first half, leading to the second half). The book is not “about” being extremely online, but is narrating the experience of being essentially addicted to being online. Well, no. It’s about trying to narrate the experience of having your brain having been rewritten by internet communication to the point at which, while you’re incredibly fluent and fluid within internet communication and the processing of information, you’re not entirely able to communicate in those same ways offline anymore. And this disconnect between those two worlds, as it feels like one is giving way to the other, isn’t simply a transition or a transformation, but a kind of loss that leaves you empty and ill-equipped for the necessary human communications still part of your life. That this book was possibly being finalized during the pandemic further illustrates the level to which our online communication (but still more importantly the processing of information) has further infiltrated out humanity.
The first half of the book is truly hilarious. It’s also a book with hundreds of reference points (which would make for an interesting annotated edition fifty years from now as people who didn’t live through the lifecycle of virality and memes would need to understand the references) without a lot of direct allusions. Will the future understand a sentence that says “They found ‘Charlie Bit Me’ on Osama Bin Laden’s computer”? And more so than novels “about” the internet, this book felt seen and felt about those who have experienced the feeling of not only spending a vast amount of time online, but feeling less equipped to deal with not being online (at least within a certain milieu).
The second half of the book brings these changes home as our narrator has to again navigate a real space, in the face of a family emergency and tragedy, and the gulf of feeling this initially creates is harrowing.