All brilliant, immensely readable books in their own right, Dave Eggers’ The Circle, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Jarett Kobek’s I Hate The Internet combine to make a powerful trio that unpick the negative impact of the internet on our lives.
The public shaming of Kobek’s fictional Ellen Flitcraft and the real life shaming of the likes of Lindsey Stone and Justine Sacco in Ronsen’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed most clearly connect the books. Kobek builds on Ronsen’s exposé of the tyranny of Twitter, where our fleeting, collective outrage has the ability to wreak lives, in his dissection of the impact of unregulated capitalism on the internet – with social media organisations invested in enabling vile online abuse in order to monetise ‘heated debate’ through advertising. (By the way, if you are ever publicly shamed then Max Mosley is your go-to man.)
Hatred towards women, corporate theft of intellectual property, the uber-gentrification and subsequent ethnic cleansing of San Francisco; Kobek’s writing virtually vibrates with rage. I Hate The Internet has been compared to Kurt Vonnegut’s writing. That’s a lazy review as it is no Slaughterhouse5, but it’s a great satirical diatribe on the modern internet-enabled age. Kobe’s repeatedly calls it a ‘bad novel’ but it is a joy to read.
And finally to Eggers’ The Circle where, in a hyper-connected, dystopian near-future, we have our heroine, Mae Holland, live streaming her life to the world. Mae works for an internet conglomerate (think Google buying Facebook and Microsoft) which promotes dictums such as ‘Privacy is theft’ and ‘Secrets are lies’ as it seeks to control the population through a form of relentless transparency that signals the end of personal privacy.
The Circle is at its best, for me, when Eggers skewers the insidious, all consuming nature of social media as he shows Mae’s struggle to maintain her social network in an increasingly futile yet addictive flurry of ‘smiles’ and ‘zings’. If you haven’t read the The Circle, it is the perfect companion piece to the Black Mirror episode Nosedive (S3:E1 on Netflix).
Did I miss the point of this literary triptych on the encroaching horror of social media when I tweeted my 140 character review of I Hate The Internet? Of course I did. But someone might have ‘liked’ it (me).