Reading Online: Notes from the Internet Apocalypse

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse - Wayne Gladstone

Last week, I found a list of every book I had read, circa 2004 to 2010, in a forgotten folder on an old flash drive. I updated the list  for a few years after starting online records on LibraryThing, Goodreads, and now BookLikes, then abandoned it to obscurity as the online records became much easier and convenient. The list covers a longer period of time than I have been on any of these sites, and there were even a few now defunct online book reviewing platforms I was on before, All Consuming and Bibliotravel. Does anyone remember those? These are gone now, but the Word document survived. It really does showcase the ephemeral nature of the internet- in the time I complied this file, hidden away and ignored for four years, turned out to be more enduring than two websites. Of course, the list started as a few pages of college ruled notebook paper with handwritten notes that have long since been tossed into a recycling bin at the U of M somewhere.


I don’t know why, but I decided not to include the books I read earlier than my when I joined Goodreads in 2007 (a crazy long time ago in internet years), but after rediscovering the list, I decided to drop them in now, for completeness’ sake. Weird, since my Goodreads records now go back two and half years before the site even existed. It now includes ten years of my recorded reading history. Clicking into the stats area, I can’t help but be impressed by the large orange graphs and spreading ranks of book covers. Joining sites such as Goodreads, and yes, BookLikes, certainly seems to have an effect upon my reading habits. Access to books has become easier than ever, with recommendations emailed and tweeted to me by bookstores, websites, and other readers, library catalogs available in the entirety on any computer, and the ubiquity of ebooks means grabbing the book you want to read now in a very short time is easy, but I don't think that's the whole story.


Observing my book reading habits through these stats, I have been increasing steadily over the years. A portion of this increase can be explained through leaving school and thus having more time to read for pleasure, but I think a major component is the obsessive need to keep stats. Now, on the internet, I can keep a running inventory, a catalog, of my reading history. Now, a full decade of it, laid out for the entire world to see. A certain part of it may be a desire to say “look how well read I am,” especially when I review books (good or bad), but a lot of it, to me, is just to look over myself; pure navel gazing. I always kept lists like these, but now, they are public, online. Such sites make it so much simpler to keep such records, and not just for reading; recipes, addresses, even friendships. It makes it so much easier. But then, I think about All Consuming and Bibliotravel, gone with all of the information stored there (aside from a few records on the Internet Archives). Will Goodreads and LibraryThing still exist in ten years? What will happen to our memory of our reading histories if it disappears?


I bring this up as a segue into my response to reading Wayne Gladstone's quick paced, genre defying satirical novel, "Notes From the Internet Apocalypse." Both a satire of online habits and an exploration of the meaning of self and our reactions to grief, Notes hits with a furious mixture of pathos, thoughtfulness, and dick jokes, tossing out a thousand interesting ideas, from the nature of our relationship with information to our own self identities. Not unlike the subject it tackles. On the other hand, the novel takes on so much, that it almost feels over stuffed in spite of its fast pace; the quixotic quest of its unreliable narrator, a dozen aspects of online life put forth for examination, and the ramifications of a generation lived under the and what this means for our culture, particularly among men under 40.


Notes from the Internet Apocalypse takes the forms of the journal of one Gladstone, a 30-something schlump whose life has hit a low point; having recently lost his wife, his career, and his only source of solace aside from a flask of scotch… the internet. Something, or someone, has killed the internet and conspiracies abound, spread now by word of mouth. As society begins a slow collapse, the government cracks down on protesters, aimless millennials wander around looking for replacements for their web, annoying anyone in their path, and Gladstone, lacking anything better to do, attempts to track down the secret in the tradition of a film noir private eye. Aided and foiled by his two friends, Tobey (a former web writer and manchild) and Oz (an Australian camgirl) they encounter various factions and characters who all wish to return the internet for their own gains, including a psychic former librarian who pegs Gladstone himself as the Internet Messiah.


Written by Cracked columnist Wayne Gladstone, the novel definitely shares this website’s style; irreverent, crude, glib. This is both a strength and a weakness. Gladstone’s alter ego struggles with his own life and used the internet to distract himself from it. At times, the book reads like a collection of anecdotes imagining what subcultures users of Twitter or 4Chan would form offline, while at other times on philosophical implications of the internet itself. On occasion, the points and political asides seem a bit heavy handed, at others vague, but there is so much to think about and quite a lot of humor too. Would we ever be able to go back to a time without instant connections, now that we have grown accustomed to it? In the end, it is all personal.

As an aside, as a librarian, I have a somewhat fraught relationship with the internet. It is by far the most powerful tool I can use, and it is important that we keep abreast of its power. If the internet disappeared, I fear even my knowledge of the books I read, my own books, would disappear too. Have I read at all it if I have not rated it and tagged it and social networked it on my accounts? Has this become a problem, or a blessing?