Social media is becoming an increasingly pervasive companion as the twenty-first century drags its mangled body onwards. The idea of engaging with the virtual world before you even get up to brush your teeth has become something of an unquestioned norm for many (myself included). It is these new abnormal norms that The This plays upon. The novel centres on ‘the this,’ a device in the roof of your mouth that allows you to tweet without lifting a finger. When I have presented this concept to friends, the response is always a slightly horrified and yet intrigued grimace.
We are already too deeply entangled with social media and yet the allure and elegance of a hands-free interface! You have to admit it has some attraction about it. But from the first chapter we become aware that ‘the this’ aims for more than just an easier user experience. It wants to create an empathy gorge - a virtual space where you can live a million lives in the same way you might ravage a packet of Revels. ‘You are a farmer. You are a farmer. You are a farmer. You are a farmer, pressed into the army and spiked with a spear from behind on a battlefield whose name you do not know.’ We have become the product people pay to experience; our lives and traumas are just raisins in the trail mix of The This. Your life is no longer private or special. That treasured memory of your wife kissing you for the first time is now everyone’s treasured memory of your wife.
What is so startling about Robert’s novel is not only its relevancy - it is, after all, science fiction - but how unbelievably alluring it is. To never be lonely again, to access the knowledge of your peers, and be truly useful: who could turn down an offer like that?
That’s for sure.
Nina Walker is studying a Modern and Contemporary literature MA at the University of Leicester. She writes poetry on modernity, dogs, and pub men (among other things) which can be found on her blog here. Her most recent project is an extended prose piece on work culture called The Anatomy of Work. She also enjoys dystopian fiction, producing digital art and the work of e. e. cummings. She can’t swim or ride a bike so it's probably for the best that she stays inside and writes.