I Hate the Internet is not so much a novel as a wildly entertaining rant. Jarett Kobek is a self-published former software engineer who has been hailed as the Michel Houellebecq of San Francisco — a city whose tech-era hypocrisies he doesn’t so much as satirise as carpet-bomb with excrement. Kobek lacerates so many aspects of western culture that we may as well alphabetise them as follows: Advertising; Alan Greenspan; the Canadian rock band Arcade Fire;Ayn Rand; the Bush family; Californians (in particular, their inability to understand the difference between irony and coincidence); the sacred literary cow David Foster Wallace; Doctor Who fans; Google; Lena Dunham’s TV show, Girls; literary fiction (‘long-winded bullshit’); Presidents Reagan through to Clinton (and also Thomas Jefferson, ‘America’s Rapist in Chief… the rare slave holder who enjoyed raping his property while writing declarations and essays and letters about the dignity of man’); Star Wars; Walt Disney; you the reader.
The story is told in the confrontational style of a Stewart Lee stand-up routine in which the comedian insults his audience (Kobek is a fan). It centres on a semi-famous fortysomething comic-book artist named Adeline who finds herself the target of a Twitter storm involving Beyoncé fans after she dares to suggest that the Queen of Pop has done nothing for social progress.
Kobek’s particular target is social media, which masquerades as liberation while monetising hatred for the benefit of the rich, white billionaires who run these platforms. ‘Why are we here, why do we do all of these things?’ he asks. ‘We are on Earth to make Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg richer. There is an actual, measurable point to our striving.’
You can see why the book has become such a sensation among self-hating Millennials, generally all too aware of their own exploitation at the hands of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also see why publishers had a hard time with it. Kobek wears the term ‘bad novel’ with pride, the ‘good novel’ being 20th-century-era literary fiction — a CIA-funded scheme to distract Middle America with ‘pointless sex’ and ‘ruminations on mortgages’ (he’s partly right there).
So it seems petty to complain that this never really develops and the plot, ‘like life, resolves into nothing and features emotional suffering without meaning’. Kobek’s tech villains are self-important cutesters, while his portraits of the ‘victims’ of the internet (which include the poor, sex-shamed women, as well as transgender and ethnic communities displaced by the tech barons) verge on sentimental.
Still, as an act of sustained indignation, it’s inspired — and has the effect of making most other writers seem coy and platitudinous. At one point, a character, based on the author, stands above the city and shouts, in a parody of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: ‘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 386x!’ He leaves you inspecting the carnage with a grin on your face.