June 4, 2012

Sci-Fi Issue: "My Internet"

By Jonathan Lethem
~1400 words

A man reveals the existence of an elite Internet within the Internet—and then an even more selective one nested inside of that.

Tired of the Web as you know it? Well, you should be, since you’re stuck with the run-of-the-mill version that split off from its more elite twin long ago. This other Internet has evolved differently, and it is richer than our own—not in money (in fact, both money and animals are forbidden), but in texture and feel and speed.

And yet there’s trouble afoot. The leader who created this alternate Web-existence has a strict code of conduct. There have been defectors. And replacements. Others may be watching. Or not. Paranoia is on the rise, which has led our narrator to create yet another Internet within the secret Internet—so private that its use is restricted to one.

Lethem’s brief tale reads like a faintly comical fable about current communication, replete with all the contradictory notions that accompany it: the Internet is the death of culture, it is the life of culture; it’s what separates us, it’s what binds us; it’s purely commercial, it’s purely free. Even the elite version in “My Internet” turns out to embody many of these contradictions, which is why our feckless and technologically challenged narrator creates his personal Internet (from which he nevertheless communicates to our own). Like a purloined letter, this secret Internet is concealed in the open, “hidden like a grain of sand on the shore of the larger Internet”—which is to say that it’s just like our Internet, the vulgar one where all of us little people exist, our privacy protected by the simple fact that no one is looking, and no one cares.

Tongue-in-cheek and mildly dystopian, “My Internet” could do with a bit more of an edge (especially regarding human communication). There doesn’t appear to be much at stake in this story, but it gets good points for cleverness. (I find myself saying that a lot these days.)


Reader poll: I found "My Internet" to be ___.

Also from the sci-fi issue: "Monstro," "Black Box," "The Republic of Empathy."

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