No technology can be uninvented, so Seymour’s pessimism leads him to a conclusion that feels merely wistful. The worst offence of social media, he argues, is “the theft of the capacity for reverie”. Time spent online is time deducted from our lives, just as taking a selfie is an excuse to not be yourself. By way of escape, all Seymour can whimsically suggest is to go for a walk in the park, making sure you leave all your “devices” behind. In his last sentence, he even recommends lolling on a lily pad. I have some more earnest advice: if you really want to set yourself free, you should read a book – preferably this one.
Seymour’s insights into trolling are as good as you will read on the topic. Combining base forms of sadism, a mask of ironic detachment and writing tools that seem to destroy all norms of accountability, trolling is central to this horror story, where human frailty becomes toyed with for entertainment. This isn’t going on somewhere else, he reminds us; we can all do it. Every time we take to social media, to cast someone’s else’s words or deeds in an unforgiving light, we are trolling... We must rediscover the emancipatory aspect of writing, he argues, in defiance of the suffocating, regimented dystopia being forced on us. The book is a thrilling demonstration of what such resistance can look like, by one of the most clear-sighted and unyielding critics writing today. We should all read it.