I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek set in San Francisco
About every two minutes, someone tweets “i hate the internet.” If you follow the Twitter account @heardulikebooks, which automatically retweets every instance of that declaration, you will be inundated by a fascinating and heartbreaking stream of anthropological treasures.
Jarett Kobek came up with the idea after he finished his novel I Hate the Internet, out this week from indie publisher We Heard You Like Books. He typed those four words into Twitter and was astounded to see how often others did so, and why.
“I think the reason why it’s so frustrating is because it’s the perfect distillation of 21st century helplessness,” Kobek said about the Internet, by phone. “You can look at almost anyone in the industrialized world, and everyone is kind of, by virtue of the systems that they’re forced to interact with, participating in overlapping networks of global evil, and the Internet is the one that’s the most omnipresent because it’s the one that everyone’s interacting with on an hourly basis.
“We’re all talking and communicating on these devices that were, in a lot of cases, literally made by slaves, in China, the components of which were strip-mined from the Congo, doing unbelievable environmental damage, and yet, simultaneously, it’s not like you can get off it.
“I think when people say, ‘I hate the Internet,’ on Twitter anyway, that is an expression of powerlessness, because it’s being expressed into the Internet,” Kobek said. “It’s a resignation of any sense that there’s anything you can really do.”
“I Hate the Internet” is set in 2013 San Francisco, when short-lived Mission District restaurant Local’s Corner reportedly denied service to a Latina woman on Cesar Chavez Day. The 600-square-foot restaurant serving locally sourced seafood had replaced a long-standing corner store and fast became a symbol of the tone-deaf realities of tech-fueled gentrification.
The book is rightly if comically preceded by a list of trigger warnings that includes everything from “capitalism” and “historical anachronisms” — things so prevalent in our society that they’re taken for granted — to “elaborately named hippies practicing animal cruelty on goats” and “seeing the Facebook profile of someone you knew when you were young and believed that everyone would lead rewarding lives” — things you might not expect to have to prepare for, and examples of capitalism extended to its logical conclusions. It announces itself to be a bad novel on Page 23.
But “I Hate the Internet” reminds us that there is more at stake than good form, that — Google it — novelistic “good form” was designed by the CIA as a means of promoting a certain type of American lifestyle. It’s a book filled with outrage that needs to be felt, not framed, that talks about how we talk about a world in which we actually live.
“You can go see a stand-up show and some dude will talk to you about every complex social issue of the moment, and it won’t be encompassed by a language that’s like a labyrinth that you have to get through to understand what the hell someone is saying,” Kobek said. “And it works, and it’s effective, and I thought: Well, why can’t a book do this? Is there something inherently broken in the novel, or at least in our conception of the novel, that we just can’t do this anymore?”
IF YOU GO
Jarett Kobek: I Hate the Internet: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Free. City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F.
This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.
Photo courtesy of the author