What would you do if you were just casually walking home from work and you saw a 10-foot tall robot statue that most definitely had not been there the day before? Maybe not even the hour before. Probably pull out your phone and take a picture, maybe open up Snapchat or Instagram. Or even Facebook if you’re in the Facebook Generation. Nobody would blame you, it is the age of social media. Okay tons of people would blame you, lots of people kind of just exist to judge, but I wouldn’t blame you and I know my opinion is the one you really care about.
Anyway, back to the robot. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that nobody has had this experience, but April May from Hank Green’s new book An Absolutely Remarkable Thing has. I enjoy his brother’s books, so when I learned that Hank was writing a book I was super excited. The book is truly excellent. One might call it…remarkable. Okay, I’ll stop. Anyway, here’s my obligatory spoiler warning: WARNING. SPOILERS FOR AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING. Wow, that was obnoxious. But, you know, it’s the internet…gotta put five million SPOILER warnings on ever little thing. That’s kind of what a lot of the book talks about. No, not spoiler alerts. The internet. What it does right and what it does so wrong.
The story is told in first person, and I don’t see how this story could be told from any other point of view, the narrator is literally describing something that happened to her. She regularly addresses us directly. The book follows the narrator, April May, and her friends. Friends is a less than accurate term. They are more like the moons that circle the April May planet. April an artist in her early 20s. She begins the story as one of those people who brands herself as hating all social media…but, you know, still posts on Instagram. I personally relate to beginning of the story April as I too like to say that I despise social media, except of course Instagram and Snapchat and Pinterest and Youtube and sometimes even Tumblr if i’m in the right mood. And then of course it doesn’t count if it’s business related… Anyway, April and were lying to ourselves.
So, April stumbles upon this giant robot sculpture. Being this anti-internet artist, she starts inspecting it with an artist’s eye, then calls her friend Andy who’s big dream is to be internet famous. There’s a giant ten foot robot sculpture, that sounds like a ticket to internet fame. They make a video, but Andy convinces April do the on-camera because she’s very photogenic and looks like an actual artist with, as he says “your cheekbones and your peacoat” and he looks basically like a dweeb. The video blows up the internet, and it’s discovered that there are Carls (April names the robot Carl) in cities all across the world. The rest of the book just follows April as she becomes consumed by and addicted to the fame that this video and connection to the Carls bring her. More and more information and strange things are found surrounding them and April’s relationships are tested, she breaks up with her girlfriend and starts to lose touch with Andy because she is more and more concerned with interviews and twitter followers. The ending is a wild twist and I am need a sequel. Not that I know if there’s going to be a sequel but there better be.
So, I mentioned the internet before. I’m not going to explain the entire plot, I’ve done enough already, but the way I read it the book offers two equally true things about the internet. It, and social media, can be dangerous. Just in the way that fame can be, it can become all consuming. If you become obsessed with growing your Twitter following you have to constantly craft your posts to be perfect, question everything and worry that you will be attacked. And you will be because it is the internet and every opinion in existence is out the online. If you are trying to build yourself into a brand, as April did, you must curate your life so only the bits that fit the public’s view of you are visible. You can lose yourself in the fiction.
In contrast the internet and social media can be wonderful. They can bring people from all over the world together. Like minded people who never would have met otherwise, but can come together and feel less alone, maybe solve some problems. And sure, sometimes the people it brings together are harmful people, but it can unite very compassionate people to, so that’s a positive. I think most things are subjective and have more than one answer.
I spend a lot of time on the internet. It’s where I talk to my friends who aren’t around, where I share things that I choose to share about my life, one place I do my research, where the information for my classes are, where I buy a lot of things, and of course it’s where the memes are. Of course it’s also where I work, especially on Twitter. Twitter is very important for businesses, so I’m on there everyday, but I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan. I make a point to not idly scroll through my Twitter during the day, just because it’s bad for my mental health. But, when I’m looking through the company feed for potential things to schedule I’ll occasionally see something about a really interesting place I want to visit, or beautiful a piece of writing, or a fascinating new scientific discovery, and I remember that if I didn’t have Twitter I’d probably never have learned about that robot fish. The internet is a useful tool, one of those tools that you have to train to be able to use without hurting yourself, and when you do it is really helpful for building sets. This books really nails that duality. Also, you know, it’s just really good… At risk of saying what probably ten million people have said already, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is absolutely remarkable.