“Complete waste” is not the most common customer review title you would use as a tagline to promote your new book with. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Jarett Kobek did to promote his novel ‘I hate the Internet’ — and apparently, it worked. Within weeks after its publication in February 2016, the book was to be found on both New York Time’s and Amazon’s best seller lists. Is the author’s tirade of hate towards the Internet taking up an issue no one dared to point out before?
Jarett Kobek is certainly not the first to criticize Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, or put differently, basically all of Silicon Valley’s recent developments. Dystopian novels like ‘The Circle’ predicting a dark outcome of the tech world’s growing importance are nothing new. Furthermore, substantiated analyses of the Internet’s drawbacks as seen in ‘The Internet Is Not The Answer’ have been around for a while either. Criticizing the Internet is covered by various kinds of literature and established itself to be a wide spread issue.
So then, it might be Kobek’s approach of criticizing. Not only is he claiming to be the only American literary writer with a serious tech background, his novel was also an act of retribution towards the tech industry — which might explain the emotional emphasis the book entails. Having become strongly attached to the Internet in the early 90’s, his love began to shatter by the time social media evolved. Not only did Kobek start to question his deep affection towards the Internet, but his far-reaching Silicon Valley experience also made him doubt the Internet’s concept and business itself. The outcome: A coarsely written rant, deeply guided by emotions — and self-irony.
A short plot description, provided by the book’s blurb: It’s 2013 in San Francisco. Adeline, a rather successful comic book writer, happens to express an unfashionable opinion while being recorded. As predicted, the Internet’s reaction lead Adeline to become a victim of online harassment. In addition, she represents Kobek’s ultimate protagonist: A woman, living in the allegedly friendly and open-minded San Francisco, facing the Internet’s cruelties. Based on this example, Kobek carries out his critique towards the Internet, while also blaming capitalism, sexism, racism, and misogyny.
Apart from the copious accusations and straightforward language, the book’s self-presentation also might have influenced its popularity. The subtitle ‘A Useful Novel Against Men, Money, and the Filth of Instagram’ provokes and attracts attention. Combined with the title ‘I hate the Internet’, questions arise without further reading: Why would someone living in the 21st century deliberately hate the Internet? How are men and capitalism connected to the Internet? Why is the author specifically pointing out Instagram?
Some of these questions might be answered profoundly in several interviews with Kobek — emphasis on ‘might’: “Really the book could be called ‘I hate four companies and social media’ – but that is a bad title.” However, the author himself also states that the book’s cover is a decisive reason in favor of its popularity: “With this cover, I think the book would have sold OK even if the pages were blank”. Still, Kobek must have been surprised by the book’s success to some extent. Not only has he written the almost 300-pager within two months only, he basically also self-published the book.
Kobek co-founded the Los Angeles based publishing company ‘We heard you like books’ in 2015. The publisher’s goal according to their website is “to provide a vision of literature attuned to the hidden intellectuals and radical thinkers of the West Coast”. The company’s website is also housing the customer review mentioned earlier to promote Kobek’s novel. Its one-star-rating and the title being followed by “I threw the book away, that’s how awful I thought it was” might represent the publisher’s ‘radical’ approach. Anyhow, the concept succeeded: ‘I hate the Internet’ attracted way more attention and buyers than Kobek’s preceding books.
Whether the book is comprehensible for depleted Silicon Valley technologists only or it makes you hate the internet (and besides that, capitalism, sexism, racism, and misogyny) too is up for debate, of course. It might be worth finding out though. I for myself didn’t — yet.