Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Can A Novel Capture How Badly The Internet Has Broken Our Brains?

One of the most demoralizing aspects of spending half of my time on social media is that it makes me worse company for myself. In search of good posts and lured by the prospect of finding my own occasional posts deemed good themselves, I willingly bathe my brain in the toxic slurry of nasty tweets, subtweets, thirst traps, and indecipherable memes.

The effects of this on my psyche are those that most people report. I am consumed by the desire for better clothes, better home decor, better jokes, better ideas to present online. When I open my mouth to talk to my husband over dinner, what comes out are smugly informed tick-tocks of little dramas

he doesn’t care about (bean dad, iodized salt). When I’m alone, I kill time wondering whether certain scathing subtweets are about me, or if not, whether they indict me nonetheless. Every punctuation mark creates an agony of indecision when I post myself, and I am embarrassed by either the attention paid or withheld. I don’t like spending time with my brain when it’s like this: narcissistic, defensive, trivial. 

This is one of the significant challenges in addressing social media in fiction; it hardly sounds stimulating to read about characters strategically composing a post with the correct number of question marks or considering the best dunks on the day’s Twitter main character. It reflects a part of our life that wastes time and energy, which tends to leave us feeling itchy and alienated, both from others and ourselves. In two almost mirror-image novels, critic

Lauren Oyler and poet Patricia Lockwood have shouldered the task of turning the particular brain poisoning acquired online into literature. Both books — Oyler’s relentlessly wordy satire “Fake Accounts” and Lockwood’s deeply felt, fragmented novel “No One Is Talking About This” — are dazzling, devastatingly funny, and sharply observed accounts of life on and around social media. They’re also cased studies in how difficult it is to write fiction that gives us a real insight into our brain-parasite-like relationship with social media without giving us the same bone-deep sense of self-loathing and futility as six hours of scrolling Twitter.

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