What led you to send up big tech and the internet, or “the grid”, as it’s called in the book?I’d love to write a book about butterflies or something, but I [got] so incensed about what’s happening. About five years ago it became clear that for many reasons the notion of us all having a voice [online] was going to take a different route than we had expected, because of brain chemistry and mob culture and what suited the profit motive... I’m not in any way a technophobe: this is about the extremely alarming agenda behind [online] technologies. We’re running around saying we suddenly have a voice [but] the internet infantilises you – you’re automatically a teenager when you use any of these [social media] tools. They are geared that way: we’re creatures who love an idea much more than a fact, and so we can ignore a whole lot of facts. As a novelist I’m daunted because it’s impossible... well, it was impossible to write satire 20 years ago, to be fair.
You’re finding your creative resources more stretched than when you wrote Vernon God Little?Oh yeah, for sure. I made the mistake, for about a year of writing this, of thinking, I’m just gonna look five, 10 years ahead. So I invented some cool stuff; by the end of that year, all of those [made-up] technologies were old news.
Early on in the book, the protagonist finds himself branded an abuser after he smacks his daughter.Lonnie was brought up in a liberal world of second chances. My life is built from second chances; I wouldn’t be speaking to you but for having been forgiven and helped off the floor and back on my feet. I believe that’s the correct way, [but] that’s being thrown out very quickly. You can be shut down from life on the basis of one mistake.
Lonnie is worried that his daughter is growing up too fast...He’s like a Commodore 64, and his code suddenly doesn’t run on the modern system, whereas the kids are born with Windows 10, and he’s got to work out that code. He’s been symbolically down in a tunnel during the years of change, working in the sewers – I had to put him in a physical tunnel to make that [symbolism] stick – and now he’s above ground forcibly [he loses his job] and discovering that the world has shifted. He’s justifiably concerned. It’s bound to be the feeling of a person from my generation, but my feeling is that [Lonnie’s] coding was more benign and noble than we give it credit for, and endowed with more freedom.