“I Hate The Internet”: Jarett Kobek Takes on Tech

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DnA talks to Jarett Kobek, author of “”I Hate the Internet,” about tech’s role in dismantling community, creating a president and the shock of finding an audience hungry for an assault on the most game-changing invention of our time.

Jarett Kobek, author of “I Hate The Internet.” Photo by Avishay Artsy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

There’s a housing crisis in San Francisco, which is experiencing “hyper-gentrification.” Was it caused by the Internet, and the army of workers in overvalued start-ups that have displaced thousands of regular businesses and bohemian residents?

Yes, according to Jarett Kobek, an LA-based writer who joined DnA to talk about his book I Hate The Internet: A Useful Novel Against Men, Money, and the Filth of Instagram, and the role of the tech industry in destroying a once-bohemian city and enabling the rise of a flame-throwing president-elect.

This novel, or you may call it a screed, is built around stories of several characters, primarily two women whose lives are upended when they wind up being publicly shamed online.

Along the way it takes no prisoners, firing potshots at a wide range of targets, including but not limited to: the white male patriarchy, Google Buses, millennial posturing, exploitation of comic book writers, exploitation of all of us who generate ad sales for Silicon Valley titans by posting pictures and thoughts online, and the vogue for “expressing concern about racism” online because “focusing on language rather than political mechanics was an effortless, and meaningless, way of making sure one was seen in a front-row pew of the new church.”

Kobek moved to San Francisco in 2010 not to work in tech, but because, he told DnA, “I was deluded and thought that this sort of bohemian vision of San Francisco that has been embedded in the culture still had validity. And then I was just sorely disabused of that because you could see these people — the remnants of that bohemian culture — just leaving every week. . . You could see families who’d been living in these apartments for 50 years just getting evicted so that their landlords could eventually convert this into a space for people who are working for Facebook or for Google.”

“I Hate The Internet” was published by We Heard You Like Books, founded by author Jarett Kobek and two friends.

Kobek was gentrified out and eventually moved back to Los Angeles. In two months in spring of 2014 he poured onto the page his rage at the companies he saw as profiteering from the illusion of free speech they had created.

In I Hate The Internet he writes, “the curious thing was that Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Blogspot, a media platform owned by Google, were the stomping grounds of self-styled intellectual and social radicals… It was where, they believed, the conversation was shifting. They were typing morality lectures into devices built by slaves on platforms of expression owned by the Patriarchy, and they were making money for the Patriarchy.”

Then he found no one wanted to publish his diatribe against a mode of communication most people are just fine with. So he and two friends in the tech industry created a publishing house, called We Heard You Like Books, and released I Hate the Internet earlier this year.

In an unanticipated twist, America’s presidential race became dominated by a man who was marketing himself on Twitter — and global interest grew. Now the novel has been published in several languages, and Kobek just returned from a European book tour where he found his book was the star of the world’s largest trade show for publishers, the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Jarett Kobek and Hans-Jürgen Balmes, director of international literature at Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo by Andreas Pleines.
Jarett Kobek and Hans-Jürgen Balmes, director of international literature at Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo by Andreas Pleines. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

He described the scene to DnA: “They converted their huge booth at the fair into this I Hate The Internet orgy. Essentially it was like attending your own funeral because there’s pictures of you, there’s banners and they replaced every book in their booth with a copy of the German edition of the book. So it was this 2000 square foot sea of red and they had branded cups and they had branded beer and all of this stuff and it is going to take years of therapy to deal with.”

Why, one wonders, wouldn’t a writer be thrilled to be acknowledged in this way?

Says Kobek, whose next book, about the 80s club scene in New York, is to be published next year by Viking, “You know it’s nice to have people support the book, it’s genuinely nice. And I realize that I’m in a position of unbelievable privilege in that regard. At the same time it’s like, everyone ends up in merchandising.”