Renouard is old enough to remember life before the Internet but young enough to have fully accommodated his life to the Internet and the gadgets that support it. Here this young philosopher, novelist, and translator tries out a series of conjectures on how human experience, especially the sense of self, is being changed by our continual engagement with a memory that is impersonal and effectively boundless.
... Renouard has hit upon a way to infuse drama into a depiction of the internet as basic infrastructure, a technology underpinning memory, practical knowledge, everyday life ... Renouard is generally sanguine about this give-and-take, and his disinterested approach is a sometimes-refreshing contrast to the dueling strands of boosterism and (needed) criticism that dominate popular writing about technology ... There are broad and deep currents of online life that you wouldn’t know existed from reading Renouard’s fragments...Yes, this is only a disjointed memoir; Renouard wasn’t trying to write a comprehensive treatise. But especially in light of how observant he can be, the scope of what he doesn’t notice or address stands out ... Then again, if the internet is 'coextensive with all our mental acts,' that is because it’s so coextensive with the whole internet-connected world that any book about it could not fail to leave out almost everything. Writing about the internet is, in this light, no different than writing about life. And who would ask that a person writing about 'life' come at their subject from so many angles? My instinct to make such a request of Renouard springs from the same source as his desire to consider the internet—in spite of his own observations—as a thing apart. That source, in many corners of the earth, is rapidly drying up. It’s the lingering memory of what life was like before.
The delay in publication situates the book oddly. Not new enough, with the speed at which the internet changes, to feel quite like it represents now and not old enough to seem prescient ... [Renouard] understands both the unprecedented nature of the internet and that history is nonetheless full of useful and clarifying frameworks for what’s happening. Some of the joy in reading the book is not that Renouard is unique in what he notices, but in seeing the connections he makes and the details he holds onto ... There are other such occurrences where Renouard details in a fleeting moment the type of phenomenon that has come to define life for many people in this homebound, extremely online time of the pandemic ... experientially driven, which leads Renouard to mostly ignore the mechanisms that have created the obliterative and shallow environment he finds himself navigating, the companies that have profited off making their products less functional and more addicting. A lot has been written about this, how the algorithms that control what one sees on Facebook and YouTube and everywhere else pave an insidious path, and that work is vital. Renouard demonstrates that the documentary work of keeping track of how those tools and platforms were and are used, and what people feel, and what they see is vital, too.
One might expect such a contemplation to be either technical in detail or hopelessly academic, but the author strikes a surprisingly conversational tone ... These succinct but evocative chapters aren’t essays in the traditional sense but rather pieces of a scaffolding on which the author can hang his often inspired, sometimes perplexing reflections. It doesn’t hurt that Renouard’s language is quite nimble. He can state the obvious with grace and then circle back to the thought in a subsequent chapter with a poetic melancholy ... Using films, books, and personal experiences as touchstones, Renouard offers a thoughtful consideration not of the internet’s properties or even its possibilities but how its very presence changes us as human beings ... A pleasing metaphysical ramble through the nexus of self, emotion, memory, and experience in the digital age.