No One Is Talking About This

For she had spent the last two years letting things sink in, and now . . . guess what, bitch! Further absorption was no longer possible! All day she drank in information, but no one was telling them the most important thing.

After finishing my review of The Seas, a couple of days ago, in which I complained about the lack of straightforward storytelling, I picked up No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I knew it might be a bad move. This book is all about the fractured thoughts inside the internet (or, as the narrator terms it, “the portal”). And it’s written almost like a series of tweets, as the narrator muses over what it’s like to be very online, and to be very famous online. Somehow, though, it completely worked. Maybe Twitter has rewired by brain to the extent that a book written like Twitter just runs seamlessly into my brain. Whatever the reason, this book was perfect for where I am right now.

In the first part of the book, the narrator writes in short, snappy paragraphs about the thoughts that go through her mind, many of them about the internet. She became viral for a goofy tweet (“Can a dog be twins?”), and now she’s someone people in the portal listen to. She’s learned to think like the portal, but she lives in the real world. Sometimes there’s a clash.

The second part is about a clash that pulls her out of the portal entirely. Her sister’s pregnancy goes disastrously wrong, and so months of hard and unfair decisions followed by all the big feelings of love and loss ensue. It’s all outside the portal, and it becomes the main thing. The second part retains the fractured style of the first, but the narrator’s thoughts are centered on this one thing.

There’s been a lot of talk for years about whether the internet is real life. Mostly, there’s no clear answer. The people on the internet are real. What happens between them is fed by and feeds into real life. So that’s enough for it to matter in some way. At the same time, I have personally found the internet more and more empty and unsatisfying in the last year or two. I’ve all but given up on Facebook (I only post on my Buy Nothing Group and a couple of others). I’m quiet on Twitter (though I lurk there too much). I browse fewer blogs. At some point, it all just became too much. Too much and not enough. I keep writing reviews here, but mostly because I like having that record. It’s not the social outlet it once was.

And I think that’s why this book hit me so perfectly. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Big Things lately. Life and death and relationships and what actually matters. I suppose the pandemic, the election, the insurrection, and so on, put many of us in a contemplative space. Plus, there are all the things we can’t or won’t talk about publicly. There’s so much outside the portal.

This is not me saying, “ooh, there’s a big, beautiful world outside the internet. Go meet a friend for coffee or take a walk and enjoy it.” Our relationships with each other and the world are mediated by technology. It matters. But maybe it’s something that matters differently at different times for different people.

She tried to reenter the portal completely, but inside it everyone was having an enormous argument about whether they had ever thought the n-word, with some people actually professing that their minds blocked it out when they encountered it in a book, and she backed out again without a word.

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8 Responses to No One Is Talking About This

  1. I think part of the reason I liked this book so much is that I like thinking about what makes the (social aspects of the) internet valuable or not valuable, even though it makes me kind of sad as well. Like I was thinking about how absolutely satisfying it is when an iteration of a meme gets really really niche in a way that truly works for me — that density of meaning is hard to come by anywhere else and it feels so good. Isn’t that a weird thing to be fond of?

    • Teresa says:

      I like thinking about these things a lot, too, although the thinking lately has made me pull back more than I dive in. I do enjoy watching memes evolve. And I love when it seems like the entire internet is absorbed in something really silly or inconsequential or even something serious if people are building the conversation in a clever way.

  2. Jeanne says:

    I also loved this book (reviewed it on March 15, 2021). And I also think it’s satisfying when an iteration of a meme gets really niche in a way I understand.
    You might like Bo Burnham’s Inside. It discusses some of the same issues about life on the internets.

  3. Ruthiellla says:

    I really hated this book. But not because of its insights about the internet or about real life and what counts. I just disliked the fragmented storytelling. I don’t like Jenny Offhill’s style either. I was a little sad to had this so much because I really loved her Memoir Priestdaddy, which was also at times stylistically challenging.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m sorry you didn’t get the joy out of it that I did. I think I don’t mind a fragmented style like this as long as I feel like it’s building to something. I remember lots of people loving Priestdaddy, and this made me very curious to read it.

  4. lauratfrey says:

    Oh do I ever relate. Too much and not enough. And blogging being less social, despite everyone’s efforts. I know I’m online enough to “get” this book, as I found a list somewhere, of all the memes referenced, and I pretty much knew them all. So at this point I’m just waiting for the hype to die down a bit!

    • Teresa says:

      I wonder if there will be a point when this book feels extremely dated, given how quickly the internet moves and how very of the moment some of the memes are. But it could end up being a really good time capsule for how this moment right now feels to people.

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