It’s been too long since the last book club entry here on inertia, although I have been taking some time away from writing after experiencing severe burnout after finishing the second semester of my Masters. Now feeling recharged and armed with plenty of notes on a few books that I’ve managed to get through in the past couple of months, you can expect to see this feature more often (hopefully). Whilst explaining a lull in my output on inertia I’ll also mention again that if you’ve read a book recently that you have any thoughts on and feel like writing them down, then we are open to submissions of all sizes.
Published in March of this year, The Disconnect is a collection of essays that aim to document the reality of a life that is increasingly lived on the internet. To give the book’s full title (The Disconnect: A Personal Journey Through the Internet) hints at just how much the author grew up surrounded by this abstract digital world that has come to be integral to our every waking moment. For a debut release, author Róisín Kiberd provides a plenty of grand perspectives on how we interact with each other and the internet as a medium.
By exploring niche corners of the internet, reflecting on failed online dating experiences and living in Dublin, the tech capital of Europe, Kiberd paints an overall image of a somewhat empty existence. Often the problems with our relationship with the internet are not glaringly obvious, we allow bad habits to develop overtime without even knowing it. This is, in part, due to the design of sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, which are intentionally designed to hook you in and keep you scrolling for as long as possible.
Through detailing her own experiences, Kiberd goes into how the Internet can be damaging to people, especially those who spent formative years of their adulthood online. Discussing eating disorders, addiction and insomnia through the lens of someone who spends most of their time online, we begin to see how easy it is to go from enjoying the novelty of the chatting to friends online to suddenly feeling isolated and lost. Now very much an extension of the world of advertising, social media projects unrealistic standards of living onto our lives in order to make us feel inadequate so that we solve our problems through buying whatever they are selling. We all know this and face it every single day. I would wager that many people reading this have, at some point, felt bad about themselves after seeing something online. It now seems to be a part of life that we are forced to put up with; a trade-off that we all unknowingly signed up to the second that we made a Facebook account.
One part of The Disconnect that was especially concerning to me was the fairly bleak image of an aspiring writer who cannot go a few hours without an energy drinks and runs off of a couple hours of sleep every night. I was hoping that by the end of my current uni course I’d have the worst of my sleepless nights behind me, but Kiberd’s experiences seem to say quite the opposite. Sitting up in bed through the night with the screen glow of a laptop illuminating my eye bags whilst I glare at an empty Word document is not how I want to live the rest of my twenties. The dismal façade of Dublin, the romanticised ideal of being your own boss as a freelancer and the boundless possibilities of the Internet no longer seem appealing to me. In part due to this book, I feel as though my distrust of a life lived online has been ratified. Working in an online role can require your 24/7 availability, a prospect which limits the employee even more than any standard office job.
In the final part of The Disconnect we are taken into the intimate dating life of Kiberd, who for much of the book seems so unmoving in her attachment to her ex that dating seems like a sort of hobby. Remaining in contact via email with her ex for years after their breakup tethers both of them to the past. The apathy that many of the men working for tech multinationals whom Kiberd meets through dating apps shows a weariness behind the shiny appearance of the tech industry, which is only one of many potential definitions of ‘The Disconnect’.
I find the concept of any ‘disconnect’ to be more of a unifying theme of emptiness and a feeling of loss that can’t quite be explained. This can be seen in how we hold most of our conversations each day via texts or messaging apps, how many of us spend hours swiping between potential love interests, how life can be tailored to get rid of human interaction or how we can lose our own identity as we slowly become nothing more than a collection of data. What this book examines through its various essays is a sort of new human condition that has been bastardised by the Internet. This new condition can instil loneliness despite the fact that we are more connected to the world now than we have ever been before. I do not know if there is an existing term for this but describing this condition as a ‘disconnect’ seems pretty spot on to me.
As this book is more of a collection of essays which amount to a personal memoir than a direct story, there is no definite ending to discuss. I suppose this makes sense, as we are left in the same place as Kiberd, who is living her life in Berlin now. Hopefully she, along with all of us, learn to live with the Internet in a better way. There is no reason that we can’t utilise the many helpful aspects of online life without it taking over our reality. Striking a balance between being permanently online or offline is a unique problem of our time, so of course we haven’t yet mastered this new and scary relationship. Over time and with help from great accounts of experiences such as this book, hopefully we can find this balance and avoid being consumed by our screens.
Words by Ewan Blacklaw