Reviewed: I Hate the Internet
Published by: We Heard You Like Books, 2016
I Hate the Internet is Jarett Kobek’s second novel, a story simply about how the quick dissemination of information across social media platforms can change many lives, but ruin them as well. The novel centers around a middle-aged comic book artist, Adeline, and her circle of avant-garde literary friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. The story takes a detour a third of the way through to discuss the events surrounding a young woman, named Ellen, in a rural New Mexico town. Though Adeline and Ellen have no knowledge of each others’ existence, they have one thing in common—having their lives turned upside down because of social media. Adeline, a cult hero among comic book fans, gives a speech at a university, where she shares a myriad of her own opinions, many of which are very unpopular amongst her fans. The recorded speech is shared through Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms and suddenly Adeline is faced with a maelstrom of criticism. One thousand miles away in New Mexico, Ellen, a recent college graduate, enrages her ex-boyfriend’s jealous girlfriend who retaliates by finding and sharing old pornographic images of Ellen all over the internet. Ellen becomes depressed and reclusive, fearing she could never find a job as long as those images are attached to her name. The principle plot and characters are pure fiction, but between those narratives Kobek weaves incredible amounts of facts and statistics about other issues plaguing our society, from race and class struggles to gentrification to the erased history of artists of color.
The novel is unique in the ways in plays with structure and language. Kobek’s prose is technical and tangential. Character development is almost non-existent, but the novel doesn’t exist for its characters. The fictional lives of Adeline and Ellen are just made up examples of a very real problem, at least according to Kobek. Though Kobek never uses first person at all in the novel, he does not shy away from using his characters as a mouthpiece for his own opinions on Internet culture and the media. Kobek doesn’t season the novel with facts, he dumps boatloads if information on his readers on every page. To say he goes off on tangents has too negative of a connotation—he makes sure whatever dose of statistics he lays on the reader matters to the message of the text. One of the first fact-based criticisms of modern society comes in his analysis of race. “Of all the inessential features that led to the social construction of the White race, differences in skin pigmentation were the most prominent. According to certain people who self-described as People of Color, which was a remarkably offensive and unexamined phrase, and members of the White Race, Colored skin was the visual byproduct of eumelanin’s presence in the stratum basale layer of the epidermis.” After that dermatological introduction, he describes the physicality of all his characters not by saying “black,” “white,” “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned,” but by addressing how much eumelanin they have in the stratum basale layer of their epidermis.
He brings up the dangers of capitalism as often as he discusses race. He criticizes literary fiction by informing us how the term came to be—“The writer of this novel gave up trying to write good novels when he realized that the good novel, as an idea, was created by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA funded the Paris Review. The CIA funded the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Literary Fiction was a term used by the upper classes to suggest books which paired pointless sex with ruminations on the nature of mortgages were of greater merit than books which paired pointless sex with guns and violence.” It seems like none of these tangents have anything to do with the Internet, but Kobek ties everything together with his characters. Discussing all of the detrimental qualities of the Internet, from how Adeline was harassed over social media for expressing her unpopular opinions on popular music to how Ellen couldn’t find a job because a simple Google search of her name called up a number of nude photos she didn’t consent to having published, reminds us how the Internet is an infinitely faceted thing. He argues that the Internet perpetuates harmful capitalistic values, and harmful racist and sexist ideas. He is critical of even the most left-leaning effects of the Internet, such as the Arab Spring acting as an advertisement for Twitter as opposed to a positive example of revolution. He is even critical of himself, often referencing his performance as an author and the novel’s performance as a warning to the masses—all in third person.
The novel serves as a two hundred and eighty page think piece, the Internet’s way of disseminating opinions as fact and fact as opinions. In fact, the text starts with a trigger warning. The first page of the book warns its reader of what nefarious subjects lie ahead. These include, but aren’t limited to “Capitalism,” “despair,” “the sex life of Thomas Jefferson,” “millennial posturing,” and “seeing the Facebook profile of someone you knew when you were young and believed that everyone would lead rewarding lives.” By the end of it, I wasn’t sure if I had finished a novel or a conspiracy theorist’s manifesto. While this novel lacks some things I’ve come to expect from what I often read and review—strong character development, familial drama, and a good love story. But that’s not what Jarett Kobek set out to do. He instead wanted to educate his readership of the dangers of this vast entity they likely use every day. While his writing is manic and tangential, it is no less informative. I understand the irony of writing a review of this novel to be shared online, but it is nevertheless an important read for anyone curious as to the worldwide effects of the Internet.
Cassandra Baim grew up outside Chicago and earned a BA in English from Syracuse University. She has been previously published on Medium and The Flexist. When she's not selling books at New York's most famous bookstore, she enjoys biking across the Brooklyn Bridge and teaching her cat to play fetch.