Why I Hate the Internet received so many readers

Among the poetry racks on the second floor of San Franciscos legendary City Lights bookstore, an audience member is confronting the author Jarett Kobek with a spirited defense of the revolutionary power of Twitter and Bernie Sanders. His harangue, delivered during a book read in February, was in atavistic beatnik dialect. I do Tweet about it, Jack! he hollered, stirring an erstwhile polite audience to holler things like Sit the fuck down! and Let him talk! Its hard to imagine a more appropriate reception for Kobeks second fiction, I Detest the Internet, a savage satire of internet culture set in 2013 San Francisco .. It centers on the fallout from a surreptitious record posted to Youtube, its narrator describing real-world events of the city rendered in the hyperbolic language that has come to represent online interactions, and diverging into off-topic invective to expose its intolerable bullshit. More funny than obnoxious, the novel has become a sleeper sensation a more or less self-published book that landed a favorable review above the fold on the front page of the New York Times arts segment( something Kobek believes is a first for a self-published book ). It has dipped into the Amazon top 500, and appears set for a wider international release in six languages.

The City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, San Francisco. Photograph: Alamy
San Franciscos independent bookstores, pinched for years by online competitor and soaring commercial rents pushed up by the citys tech boom, have pushed the book hard. With this encompas, I guess the book would have sold OK even if the pages were blank, tells Kobek. Its easily spotted on the citys buses and in its parks, exerted as a talisman against the epidemic of smartphones. But the reception has surpassed his rosiest expectations.

The ironic thing, of course, is that this has all mostly happened on the internet, said Kobek, 38, of his books unlikely success. His shaven head is glistening in the afternoon illuminate of a dingy cafe in San Franciscos North Beach. He points to a photograph of American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis reading his book in bed, and a mention on music site Pitchfork as catalysts for the books surge in sales.

Sales on Amazon, both digital and paperback, and attention from the New York Times are laden with irony. The novel describes them respectively as an unprofitable website dedicated to the extermination of the publishing industry, and transitioning from Americas paper of record into a website that catered to the perceived whims of affluent, youthful demographics.

Over the course of the fiction, its writer gradually exposes an ambivalence towards the internet belied by its stark title. Early on Kobek writes: This bad novel, which is a morality tale about the internet, was written on a computer. You are suffering the moral outrage of a hypocritical writer who has profited from the spoils of slavery.

Later, during a long mountain-top soliloquy by a semi-autobiographical character, a scene which openly parodies the climax of Ayn Rands libertarian fiction Atlas Shrugged, the reader learns: I know what the internet was like before people used it to make money. I am the only literary writer in America with a serious tech background! I am the only literary writer in America who ran Slackware 1.0 on his 386 x!

Kobek admits that his experiences both using technology and working for tech firms have been formative. The internet is as much a part of me as anything, he tells. Ive done just about every low-level, high-paying undertaking the internet has to offer, from web design to systems admin. I was a big Unix guy at one point, in my late teens.

But my relationship with it started divorcing around the time social media started. Genuinely the book could be called I detest four companies and social media but that is a bad title.

A street car moves past Twitter Inc headquarters in San Francisco, California. Photograph: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

What the book taps, tells Kobek, is a visceral emotional impulse he encountered often on his just-concluded national book tour, its ranting tone and merciless humor attempting to offset a feeling of powerlessness commonly felt by internet users The book defines this as intellectual feudalism produced by technological innovation arriving in the disguise of culture. Kobek flames with brutal rhetoric, but described the narrators desperate attempt to understand an impossibly complex and liquid situation.

I knew people hated the internet, he said, but I didnt realize how profoundly wounded people are by it. Everyone knows someone whos had just horrible experiences. Its been exhausting, at times it has felt like group therapy, he said of his recent book tour.

Kobek lived in San Francisco from 2009 through 2014 before decamping to Los Angeles. The preparation was, unfortunately, being tortured by San Francisco for four years, tells Kobek. When I come back now, I simply feel overwhelmingly sad. As much as I shit on it, San Francisco has enormous charm. But its like a city with Alzheimers, it still seems the same but there is something missing.

The merit of any moment in San Francisco could be measured by a simple question: was the beauty of the city outweighing its riling citizens? Photograph: Alamy

He writes of the city with fury. San Francisco had two distinctions: One, it was the most beautiful city in America. Two, it was filled with the most riling people in America. It had always been like this, from the beginning. The merit of any moment in San Francisco could be measured by a simple question: was the beauty of the city outweighing its riling citizens?

But the success of Kobeks bleak book is a tale of hope and entrepreneurial pluck. Stymied in his early attempts to get onto published, he co-founded a small press in Los Angeles called We Heard You Like Books, designing the encompas and writing the Kindle and Nook files himself. He even made a prequel in the form of an agitprop video game cassette for beloved British microcomputer the ZX Spectrum. The book will be released in the UK this fall by Serpents Tail, and in Germany by Fischer Verlag. His next book, which takes up with the same characters during in an earlier era in New York City, has been sold to Viking.

In I Detest the Internet, Kobek identifies with the tragic experience of comic book artist Jack Kirby, who made Captain America and many other superheroes but never financially benefitted from the business that he helped construct. The internet, and the multinational conglomerates which rule it, have reduced everyone to the worst possible fate. We have become nothing more than comic book artists, churning out content for enormous monoliths that refuse to pay us the value of our work.

With this novel, Kobek seems to have found a route to make sure that doesnt happens to him As long as “youve got something” to sell, he tells, they cant really hurt you.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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