Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I Hate the Internet, by Jarett Kobek

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Jarett Kobek's I Hate the Internet is a savage satire on technology, media, celebrity, big business, politics and just about everything.

I Hate the Internet sounds like a gimmick, a clever bit of marketing to get suckers to buy a book. Surely the contents couldn't live up to the title? Happily Turkish-American Jarett Kobek's self-published novel (now picked up by mainstream publishers) is a refreshing and brilliant surprise.

Set mainly in the San Francisco Bay Area, the story centres around Adeline, a forty-five-year-old comic book creator. Her style is rather flamboyant in a Diana Vreeland like way, her language peppered with expressions such as darling and mad. Her main claim to fame is a comic called Trill, published in the 1990s, which made her somewhat famous. Fast forward twenty years and things go awry at a talk she gives to a group of students. In a sudden flight of fancy she goes on a rant about why the world is going down the toilet. Technology, the Internet, social media all share the blame. Someone in the audience records the outburst, uploads it onto the Internet and before Adeline knows it, she's involved in Twitter wars with the fans of Beyonce and Rhianna.

This is a novel filled with smart dialogue, enough quotable lines to rival Oscar Wilde and a running commentary on just about everything. It describes the world in the past tense, as though some future narrator is sifting through the detritus of a past civilisation. Places, current politicians, tech behemoths like Twitter and Facebook, even irony itself, are all described as things that happened in the past. There's little plot, but rather a broad cast of characters that pop up periodically, all with interesting and quirky backstories. One moment we're at a restaurant or a party, the dialogue crisp and witty, then suddenly we jump to someone's apartment. The novel hops from scene to scene. Kobek's characters are not so much employed to drive a plot but rather describe a social and cultural milieu: the misfits and freaks who created the vibrant San Francisco culture before the city was chewed up and spat out by the big tech companies. The tech companies pushed up rents and in the process pushed the original creative people out.

The driving brilliance of I Hate the Internet is its bitingly fierce, often funny satire. Kobek has something to say on just about every big question there is today: misogyny, racism, white power structures, politics etc. Kobek also likes to riff on literature, art, cinema and pop culture, from science fiction and comics to Ayn Rand and Beyonce. It's a wild, wild trip, something of a mix between Margaret Atwood (The Heart Goes Last comes readily to mind), anarchist activist and writer David Graeber and Kurt Vonnegut. For example:

"Wars were giant parties for the ruling elites, who sometimes thought it might be great fun to make the poor kill each other."

"Most apps were developed on the principle of the lowest common denominator, working off the general assumption that stupidity was the baseline of the human experience."

On Twitter and Facebook activism:

"They were typing morality lectures into devices built by slaves on platforms of expression owned by the Patriarchy, and they were making money for the Patriarchy. Somehow this was destroying the Patriarchy."

It's hard to think of a more original novel you'll read this year. Kobek writes like he doesn't need to please a panel of literary judges, only himself. He's worked out his own unique economic and political theory on why the world is going to hell in a handbasket and is willing to put it out there. In essence Kobek thinks the Internet is not a tool for enlightenment and liberation, but is rather entrenching white male power. You may feel you are free tweeting, but the device you hold in your hands was made by slave labour in China, while every tweet, every Facebook post, every Google search helps make money for a small group of white men.

Don't miss this incendiary bomb of a book, a genuine rarity today. You may not agree with everything in it, but it's a book that will challenge your every assumption. 

I Hate the Internet, by Jarett Kobek. Published by Serpent's Tail. ISBN: 9781781257616  RRP: $27.99

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