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.
... fittingly for our internet age it comes in easily digestible pieces that are a paragraph or at most a few pages long, with a great deal of variety to them. While often writing from personal experience, Renouard ranges far and wide. He includes numerous accounts of others' experiences, presenting revealing anecdotes from friends and acquaintances that he heads: 'Psychopathology of Digital Life'. And he reaches back in history with clever examples, neatly presented ... Renouard ranges far in his study, helpfully often going beyond the obvious, in both his many historical and other examples and the concepts he discusse ... an enjoyably readable tour across our changing interior and exterior landscapes and their overlap as the internet has taken hold (of us and all our information). Renouard presents his material well and writes with a comfortable ease -- eruditely but not off-puttingly so (i.e. allowing the reader to feel clever). One section (9) is an outlier, mixing a variety of classical figures and contemporary situations, strays a bit far in its playfulness, but at least he doesn't go on too far in this direction and is soon back on course ... good -- and often enough quite thought-provoking -- reading.