Book Review: Notes from the Internet Apocalypse: A Novel by Wayne Gladstone
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse is the diary of one man who chronicles the worst thing that could ever happen: the internet ceases to exist. Gladstone—both the author and the narrator, who goes by Gladstone—intermittently chronicles the first 58 days of post-internet society as it grapples with various stages of grief. The novel is amusing for people like me who spend a lot of time, perhaps too much time, online (presumably the intended audience). Even though it was an easy, entertaining read, it did get me thinking some deeper thoughts.
Gladstone (the author) wrote the story as an alternate-reality version of himself in which he is not a columnist for Cracked, but works for the State of New York (bureaucracy time—I feel for ya, Gladstone!). Gladstone uses two characters to represent the facets of himself, the eponymous Gladstone, and Gladstone’s friend Tobey who spends his time writing fart jokes for the internet. Gladstone (the narrator) starts taking notes in earnest on the state of things approximately a week into the so-called apocalypse, right around when people start getting really desperate for something to masturbate to. In fact, Gladstone depicts the stages of grief, starting with denial (everyone frantically slamming ctrl+alt+delete), but not quite reaching acceptance.
To cope with the new reality of a de-networked existence, bands of “zombies” take to the streets, forming circles based on their former affiliations—Digg, Reddit, YouTube, etc. 4Chan plays a role in the story as well, both through their group headquarters and, indirectly, in the Rule 34 Club (if you don’t know what “Rule 34” is, I do not recommend you Google it if you don’t want to find porn).
The plot of the story centers on Gladstone’s attempts to find out what happened to the internet. He ventures forth with Tobey and they find Oz, manic pixie dream girl and former camgirl who made money by streaming video of herself in the shower. As I write this, it sounds like everything in the story is porn-related. The book isn’t that sex-centric, but it does acknowledge the reality that it the internet is … an outlet for many people.
Over the course of the narrative, Gladstone also deals with the loss of his wife Romaya.
This is the paragraph with serious spoilers, if you care about such things. Romaya is, it seems to the reader, dead, but it is later hinted that she perhaps left due to Gladstone’s inability to do anything interesting, thanks to the internet paralysis that is so common among modern humans. This aspect of the story is actually what makes the narrative compelling. The story is punctuated with flashbacks to the at-times idyllic past between Gladstone and Romaya. The reader learns that the couple wanted to have a baby, but were unable to do so; Romaya had several miscarrages. The novel’s climax happens when, spurred by a memory of Romaya, Gladstone climbs to the top of the Statue of Liberty and confronts himself. At this point, the reader wonders whether the internet apocalypse is real, or a psychotic break as is suggested by several aspects of the narrative. I, for one, appreciate the psychotic break theory of the novel because it puts a personal tragedy on the level of a worldwide catastrophe. Basically, this book is like Gladstone saying “my wife left me and it hurts so bad that it feels like there is no more internet.” On its own, that sentence wouldn’t be that powerful, but backed by 212 pages of the written word, I get the picture.
I liked that this book outlined the world conditions well. Only the internet is gone. Computers still work, there is still television and everything else. The world is simply without networking abilities. It’s almost like it’s the early 1990’s, except you have a whole generation of people who have no idea what life is like without the net and at least two other generations who have forgotten how to live without it. Of course, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse made me think about life without the internet, as terrifying as that is (side note: when I picked up this book, I thought it might be more of a campy horror story, but I was wrong). On the one hand, I would be distraught without the internet because I rely on it for my job search, finding stuff out, disseminating my opinions in blog form, and putting holds on more library books than I can possibly finish before they are due. I also use the internet for a lot of shit though, like many people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with binge-watching Netflix, reading Reddit all day, or whatever your version of using the internet looks like. The trouble is that when we do this all the time, we can lose touch with business that actually matters.
Spending too much useless time online has been something I’ve been thinking about over the last few months, which is probably why I appreciated the message of the book. I have been trying to get in the habit of quitting my computer when I’m not actually doing anything. I remind myself that going through page after page of Reddit is not doing anything for my life. I at least force myself to make the conscious decision to vegetate online or go do something else. I’m not saying that we should all quit the internet, but I think there is something to be said for conscientiously choosing what to look at and how long to look when it comes to the web.
In short, this book is a light read and fairly entertaining. It had a number of good quips like the day eight comment that “Most offices are back in session, relying on faxes, phone calls, and the realization that 50 percent of all e-mails never need to be sent.” As someone working in an office right now: AMEN. Another piece of wisdom: “Trying to make a point online is like playing a game of telephone with fifty friends. All of whom are deaf. And neurologically impaired.” I liked that there was an undercurrent of philosophy to it. I recommend it to people looking for fun speculative fiction.
What to read next:
- Since we endured a world without internets, I will suggest its opposite: cyberpunk. The Otherland series by Tad Williams (book one: Otherland: City of Golden Shadow) is long—not Wheel of Time long, but definitely substantial—and describes the plight of a number of people in a virtual world. It’s pretty awesome. Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors.
- Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum is a non-fiction book that describes the history of the internet and goes into how it works. Let’s get some perspective on our internet-having world.
- The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr also deals with the internet’s effects on modern life. I reviewed it last year (almost exactly a year ago, now that I look at it). While I didn’t agree with all of it, I do think it was an interesting perspective.