In February 2019, the poet Patricia Lockwood gave a lecture at the British Museum. She prefaced it by explaining that she had started keeping a diary of what it felt like to be “extremely online,” a part of the internet’s “snowy white disintegration, which felt also like the disintegration of my own mind.” The 6,500-plus word speech that followed, titled simply “The Communal Mind,” was written in the third person. As Lockwood said at the time, “It seemed fitting to write it in the third person because I no longer felt like myself.”
Lockwood’s new novel, No One Is Talking About This, is the result of her exploration of what it’s like to experience life, neither online nor offline, but simply with the internet. Though she’s previously published two books of poetry and a memoir, a novel is an apt form for this particular project. Internet life is endlessly weirder and more unbelievable than fiction, and it has a funny habit of seeping into our “real” lives in ways that feel, at this point, almost unsurprising: Pizzagate, QAnon, the Capitol riot, Tide Pods. No wonder Lockwood no longer felt like herself; who does?
No One Is Talking About This is told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator who is ricocheted to internet and real-life fame when one of her posts (“Can a dog be twins?”) goes viral. In high demand as an internet explainer, she gives lectures on “the portal,” as she calls it, to audiences around the world. The novel is divided cleanly in two. In the first half, we’re plunged into the continuous, looping scroll of the narrator’s days—waking up and immediately checking the portal, trying to turn into “a single eye that scanned a single piece of writing.” In the second, a family tragedy wrenches the narrator and reader alike back into the real world.
It would be a mistake to read this two-part division as a makeover-style “before and after,” where the extremely online before is unequivocally bad and the extremely offline after is unequivocally good. Instead, Lockwood plays the two parts against each other to show that while online life is not complete when it’s divorced from unironic physical existence, real life—and how we celebrate it, remember it, or grieve the loss of it—is now indelibly linked to our experience of the portal.