Kobek’s satire of modern life rests loosely on the story of two women dealing with the fall out of their images appearing online without their consent. Adeline, a middle-aged comic book writer who resides in San Francisco, who commits ‘the only unforgivable sin of the 21st century’ – giving a lecture in which she expresses unpopular opinion and failing to notice someone filming her. The video goes viral and Adeline is forced onto Twitter to give herself a voice, much to the horror of her son. It doesn’t all work against her however, as the exposure increases sales of her previous comic books. Ellen Flitcraft, a twenty year old from a much smaller town, has no such silver lining when photographs of her performing oral sex on her now ex-boyfriend are spread online. For her, it turns her life into a living hell, she is ostracised from her community and suffers great mental torment.
Interesting and sad as these tales are, they feel sidelined by the larger focus on the problems of social media and certain other specific aspects of the Internet. Kobek explains things in a cutting style as if for someone not from this time. For example, he describes Amazon as ‘an unprofitable website dedicated to the destruction of the publishing industry’, and Instagram as ‘the first social media platform to which the only sane reaction was hate’. Some of what he writes has been redacted in the UK edition. He comments on the proliferation of entirely unimportant things that people obsess over, and the loss of privacy.
One of his main bugbears is over intellectual property and the way in which big companies exploit creators. Admittedly this is not purely a digital age problem – he cites the creation of some of the most popular superheroes and the way in which the artists who created them were shut out from reaping the rewards of their phenomenal popularity. He sees social media doing this on a much larger scale. People mistakenly view it as a great outlet for freedom of expression when really they’re just making more money for the companies with every post. The becomes even more disturbing when he points out that the death and rape threats people send online benefit the likes of Twitter and Facebook.
Overall a brazen, unapologetic criticism of the modern world. The narrative is split into small chunks, the way content is often absorbed online. This may not be to everyone’s taste but it is incredibly easy to read and oddly addictive. If you have your doubts about the impact of social media this is a book to sink your teeth into that will also keep you well entertained.