THE LIMITS OF THE INTERNET NOVEL
On Dave Eggers' 'The Every'
Amazon is a glorified mail order catalog. Facebook is a glorified phonebook. Twitter is a glorified message board. Certainly these and other tech giants have changed our lives, creating fortunes for some and wrecking the livelihoods of others. They have put many more traditional entities on the ropes, among them newspapers, quaint retail shops, taxicabs, and so on. Their innovations in surveillance are at once pedestrian and insidious. Have they altered human nature, whatever that is?
Much journalistic and literary effort has been spent in the attempt to answer that question, and the answer usually falls somewhere between ‘no’ and ‘maybe’. So-called ‘internet novels’ usually take one of two forms: books that chronicle the lives of the very online; and books that address the tech industry itself, usually in a somewhat altered-for-the-worse version of the present or near future. The best of the former category, including Tao Lin’s Taipei (2012) and Patricia Lockwood’s Booker-shortlisted No One Is Talking about This (2021), portray the internet’s effects on language and consciousness. Lin’s narrator often drops his phone on his face while lying prone to remind us just what he’s up to. Lockwood’s narrator enters the slipstream of social media without ever having to inform us that she logged on or typed something into a search bar.