“Most recently, one of [Mae’s] friends from college had posted a message about having the stomach flu, and a long thread followed, with friends making suggestions about remedies, some offering sympathy, some posting photos meant to cheer her up. Mae… sent a link to a song, “Puking Sally,” that she’d found… The bassist, Damien Ghilotti, was in New Zealand, was a studio engineer now, but was happy to know that “Puking Sally” was still resonating with the flu-ridden… David Ghilotti was invited to play at a wedding, if he wanted, or visit Boulder, or Bath, or Gainesville, or St. Charles, Illinois, any time he happened to be passing through, and he would have a place to stay and a home-cooked meal. Upon the mention of St. Charles, someone asked if anyone from there had heard about Tim Jenkins, who was fighting in Afghanistan… Sixty messages later, the respondents had determined it was a different Tim Jenkins… There was relief all around, but soon the thread had been overtaken by a multi-participant debate about the efficacy of [the Afghanistan] war, U.S. foreign policy in general, whether or not we won in Vietnam or Grenada or even WWI, and the ability of the Afghans to self-govern, and the opium trade financing the insurgents, and the possibility of legalization of any and all illicit drugs in America and Europe… and then there was a frenetic exchange between three family members of MS patients, and Mae, feeling some darkness opening its wings within her, signed off.” (Eggers 103-105)
Now if you’re like me, your mind is left completely jumbled after reading that passage and basically the only thought on your mind is, “What did I just read?” The passage sends the mind on a thought rollercoaster as the topic of the internet thread jumps from the stomach flu, to a bassist in a band, to a soldier in Afghanistan, to three radically different wars, to the legalization and helpfulness of certain drugs, and finally to Multiple Sclerosis. This “many-to-many” communication, as introduced by Galloway in his novel Protocol is the very mechanism for this rapid alteration of topic. Social media and internet threads today make it seem as if there is no longer such a thing as a conversation between only two people, and that all conversations online are between just about anyone that may be listening or following along. While to many, this passage contains far too many topics for a single page in a novel, this disorganization and chaos are precisely the tools that Eggers is employing during this passage in order to get his point across.
The passage itself –constructed using countless run-on sentences, several uses of the word “and” rather than a simple comma to separate ideas, and not a single paragraph break –works to completely destroy any type of organized thought and create a hectic, distraught feeling in the reader. The constant jumping from topic to topic also gives the feeling of a stream of consciousness throughout the paragraph. Despite the initial topic of the thread being the stomach flu, the participants can’t help but to constantly connect other ideas and bring on several seemingly unrelated conversations. By employing the aforementioned techniques, Eggers is purposely highlighting the haphazard nature of the internet and very accurately portraying the frantic disorder that the ever progressing world of technology has brought upon us. While technology may seem to bring order and organization to our everyday lives, it actually does more to overwhelm us with its wealth of knowledge and tools.
The internet and all its never ending bank of information sometimes causes people to believe that they know a good amount about a topic, when they actually do not. In all reality, there is far too much information on the internet to ever be known by one person, and that causes this sort of chaotic, sometimes inaccurate display of information. Take for instance this small excerpt from the passage: “…soon the thread had been overtaken by a multi-participant debate about the efficacy of [the Afghanistan] war, U.S. foreign policy in general, whether or not we won in Vietnam or Grenada or even WWI…” Forget about the fact that the information being spoken about is completely unrelated and should not be placed in the same conversation, but the internet has given these people on the forum complete confidence to argue about these topics which they clearly know nothing about. All that this display of false knowledge is doing is causing utter confusion.
When thought of in this sense, it seems as if the history and knowledge on the internet is nothing more than standing reserve. While the information may be there for any and all to look up, it is only truly known by a small portion of people. Because the information is always there and won’t ever be disappearing, there is less motivation to rightly know the material.
While Eggers does not directly make these points in his novel, using such hectic and somewhat confusing form as in the abovementioned passage help to push these points across very purposefully. In one rather lengthy, but simple passage, Eggers creates a frenzied technological setting that works very well to not only confuse the reader in a way, but also to cunningly portray the crazed world of internet threads and social media; as well as the apparent loss of knowledge as a result of the always present “standing reserve” for which the internet allows.