"My Internet" by Jonathan Lethem Originally published in the June 4 & 11, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.
So, it’s the science-fiction issue of The New Yorker, and we get four pieces of fiction. For whatever reason, rather than introduce readers of The New Yorker to science-fiction writers, the editors have opted to give us more of the same. The four authors who offer us fiction: Sam Lipsyte, Jennifer Egan, Junot Díaz, and, here, Jonathan Lethem. Both Díaz and Lethem were published in the magazine as recently as April.
To be honest, I’m not excited to read any of these pieces (I’ve been trying to get through Egan’s as it’s been tweeted, but more on that later), so I decided to read the shortest first. “My Internet” is only four columns spread over two pages. I could use some help with this one, because I felt it hardly worth the short time it took to read it once yet read it a second time, getting not a single thing extra for my troubles. It begins like this:
I have an Internet within the Internet. It is my very, very own Internet, a place like the one that is known to you except that it is not known to you — it is mine alone. No one else may go there.
I haven’t read a lot of Jonathan Lethem, and while I didn’t like his recent “The Porn Critic,” which was published in the April 9, 2012 issue of The New Yorker (my thoughts here), I have been at least on the positive side of indifference, but this opening sounded quite cute and self-aware, something I don’t have a lot of patience with apparently. At this point, I was already working up the will to continue reading. I’m getting more and more grumpy with these, I know.
The nameless narrator goes on to describe the three levels of the Internet. There’s the general one; it’s the one you’re using to read this post, and it’s for anyone. Back when the Internet began and there were only 200 users, a leader foresaw many problems with the general Internet — “difficulties such as those with anonymity and masquerade and the lemminglike migratory waves of popular hatred that have come to define the Internet” — and he proposed an equal split: 100 users to the general one, which has continued to grow, and 100 users for his exclusive Internet, which continues to have 100 users, even when someone leaves or is kicked out. Our narrator is still feeling the negative effects, though:
Yet lately I’ve felt the urge for a deeper foray, the need for a more profound exclusion, and it is this which has led me to the creation of an Internet entirely of my own.
I found the short piece fairly boring and the clever ending weak payoff. I’m looking for help with this one, in other words. And now, on to the other, longer pieces.