Wayne Gladstone “Agents of the Internet Apocalypse” | Talks at Google

for having me here. I appreciate it. Just wanted to start
off by congratulating you all for being
Google employees. I also at one point wanted
to be a Google employee. I even submitted a resume. I kind of feel my application
probably never made it past the review of my
Google search history. Could probably get a job
at Bing because my history there’s immaculate. It’s like I don’t even
use it for some reason. I’m going to be reading to
you from my new book, “Agents of the Internet Apocalypse.” As Chris said, it’s the
second in a trilogy. In the first book, the whole
world suddenly loses internet. But electricity still works. There’s still running water. So it’s not a true apocalypse. It’s more like 1995 without
all the grunge music. But people are
still freaking out because they don’t know how
to live without the internet. And so it’s kind of
broad satire of seeing how people try to recreate
their online experiences in real life. Book One follows the story of
a character named Gladstone, Semitically handsome,
mid-’30s New Yorker, who follows rumors that there’s
someone who still online. And his investigation is joined
by his LA gossip blogger friend Toby and a 24-year-old
Australian webcam girl. There are some other
characters from Book One that I want to mention because
they pop up in Book Two that I’ll be reading from today. There’s Jeeves, who’s a NYU
librarian and psychic who decides to recreate himself as
a human search engine selling information for $5.00
a pop in Central Park. There’s a character
called Quiff Monster 42. Gladstone meets him
at a 4chan meetup. He claims to be
anonymous royalty. He wears, like, the Guy
Fawkes mask in Book One, but not Book Two
because, as he explains, it’s not 2007 anymore. That’s not hip. He’s interested in
Gladstone’s investigation. And there’s also a
Special Agent Rowsdower. If that name sounds
familiar, I poached it from an episode of
“Mystery Science Theater.” Final sacrifice
from MST 3K fans. He’s empowered under
the Net Recovery Act to interrogate people and
detain them indefinitely if it’s in the furtherance
of finding the internet. The interesting thing there
is, when I wrote Book One, it was 48 hours,
because that sounded draconian enough to detain
someone for 48 hours without counsel. And before I finished
the book, the president signed NDAA, which gives
the government the right to hold any US citizen
indefinitely without counsel if it’s to thwart terrorism. So I had to go back and up
the ante on my dystopian novel to make it as draconian
as reality, which is probably never a good sign. So I don’t want to give away
too much about Book One, but for context, it doesn’t
end so well for Gladstone. He needs some
help, and he’s told that a lot of things he saw or
felt he saw or thought he saw, he shouldn’t believe. So in Book Two, when he
gets out of the hospital, he decides he’s going to head
out to LA to his friend Toby’s house. And instead of pursuing
his investigation, he’s going to try to
reconnect with his ex-wife. So I’m going to
read four passages, try to give you a taste
of it, jump around a bit. And then if there’s time,
which there should be, take some questions
if there are any. “When I reached
Toby’s door, I heard music coming from
inside, which was good, because it wasn’t
until that moment that I realized I didn’t
have keys to his place. I knocked, but had
trouble making myself heard over yeses awakened. Toby finally came to the door,
eyes bloodshot and weary, but happy as he took a step back
to reveal all of his apartment. The stink of schwag
wafted into the hall, but I was more preoccupied
by the man on the couch, a 5o-something sporting
a balding ponytail and a Dr. Who t-shirt so stiff
and new it looked like it’s still reeked of silkscreen. ‘Gladstone!’ Toby exclaimed,
pointing to the couch. ‘You know this dude?’ I studied him for a
moment, tilting my head and making sure what I was
seeing was really there. ‘Well, let me ask you. Is this dude a 50-something
man with a ponytail and a Dr. Who t-shirt?’ I asked. ‘Uh, yeah.’ I heard myself say Jeeves,
but I didn’t say anything, because how do you greet
something you don’t understand? I had been positive
Jeeves was real when I first got to
the hospital because I had clear memories of the man
who sat at his little table in Central Park working
as a human search engine, selling information
to people too lazy to open books for free. But after the
memories got hazier, and when he never
came to see me, I started to believe
he wasn’t real. ‘Gladstone?’ he asked. ‘Jeeves?’ He planted his
palms on his knees and sprang from the
sinkhole of Toby’s couch with more grace than I expected. ‘Yes! Come in,’ he said, and I
wondered why I needed to be invited into my own friend’s
home by a more comfortable stranger. I took only a few
slow steps before he came over and put his arm around
me, leading me to the couch. ‘It’s good to see you,’ he said. ‘Why are you dressed like that?’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘An Argentinian child
prostitute pimp?’ Toby offered. ‘No,’ Jeeves replied. ‘I was
going to say something like back alley Monte Carlo
plastic surgeon?’ ‘Too wordy,’ I said. ‘Definitely,’ Toby agreed. ‘Well, anyway, it’s great to
see you.’ Jeeves plopped back into the couch, and I took
a seat just as Toby went off to the kitchen. ‘So,’ Jeeves said, ‘what
have you been up to?’ ‘Well, I just got in yesterday. Catching up with Toby, trying
to reconnect with my ex.’ I could see Jeeves
lose his energy. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I meant
about the internet, your investigation.’ ‘I don’t have an investigation.’ ‘Of course you do. You’re the internet
messiah, remember?’ I hadn’t heard that phrase
in a couple of months, and it embarrassed
me to remember I’d written that about myself. It was more cringeworthy
than a 3/4 turn selfie shot from above. ‘Holy shit’– that’s a
tough one– ‘Holy shit, that Messiah shit’s real?’ Toby
asked, returning with two PBRs. ‘I thought Gladstone was
just blowing himself again.’ ‘Yes, it’s real,’ Jeeves said. ‘This guy’s going to find
the internet,’ Toby said, pointing to me with one PPR
while extending the other to Jeeves. ‘Says who?’ ‘Says me.’ Jeeves grabbed
Toby’s wrist with his left hand, removing the beer
with his right. Then he laid his palm
flat on top of Toby’s. Toby pulled away
after a few seconds. ‘Bad touch, Mr. Grabby.’ Jeeves made a pronouncement. ‘Three things. First, you’re not my type. I like my men able to
speak in full sentences. Second, this morning you
jerked off to a website called Amazing Penetrations. And third–‘ Jeeves
looked down at his hands– ‘do you have any Purell?’ Toby was impressed,
shocked even. I’d never seen him lose
his flippancy before. He seemed to search for it on
the floor as he took a seat. Jeeves was here, so either I
was in a fully psychotic state right now or I was less
crazy than I thought. He was the man I remembered,
a man full of information both learned and divined. He smiled at me. ‘We need you, Gladstone.’ ‘We,’ I laughed. ‘Who?’ ‘It’s great to see you. But seriously, it’s not just me. Anonymous was asking about you.’ ‘Get the fuck out,’ Toby said. ‘I’m serious,’ Jeeves insisted.
‘He had a mask and everything.’ ‘Did he call himself– what
was the name from the book again?’ Toby asked.
‘Quiff Monster 42?’ ‘Uh, no,’ Jeeves said.
‘I just told you. He was from Anonymous.’ ‘Well, in Toby’s
defense,’ I said, ‘I went to a 4chan meetup. And trust me, in real life
you have to call a room full of twats something.’ ‘Isn’t that a gaggle?’ Toby
offered. ‘A gaggle of twats?’ Jeeves wasn’t amused. ‘No, he didn’t give a name. And I had nothing
to tell him anyway. I hadn’t seen you. I couldn’t get to you.’ ‘Fair enough,’ I said, hoping to
end the discussion and failing. ‘And now that I’ve found you, I
don’t know what you’re doing.’ ‘I’m enjoying my
freedom,’ I said, ‘seeing old friends and
trying to get my wife back.’ ‘She’s not your wife
anymore, dude,’ Toby said. ‘I know. I’m working on it.’ Jeeves had a mission,
but he wasn’t so impractical or unkind to
not let it drop for the moment. ‘So lads,’ he said. ‘I changed
my flight and it’s not till tomorrow. What would you like to do? My treat.’ Toby was quick
with a suggestion. ‘Let’s go to the Hashtag. We can catch the early show.’ ‘What’s that?’ I asked. ‘Just a place down
on Main Street. They play hashtag games.’ Jeeves and I looked
at each other. ‘You know,’ Toby continued.
‘Like on Twitter. They come up with funny hashtag
topics, post it on a screen, and then you write
funny responses. There are prizes.’ ‘You mean like hashtag
first world problems and things like that? Jeeves asked. ‘Yeah, but not old and
lame,’ Toby replied. ‘I love it.’ It seemed innocuous enough,
but Jeeves was happy to oblige, so we took Toby’s Matrix. I let Jeeves ride shotgun
and I packed myself into the back seat. From the outside, the Hashtag
was like any other dingy bar. But the sign was new and
bright and neon pink. Inside it was dark. But I could make out a series
of small tables, each replete with a hookah and a bong. The air hung thick
with what I assumed was official California
issue medical marijuana. ‘This is a drug den,’ I said. ‘Duh,’ Toby replied. ‘Why do you think they
call it the Hashtag?’ Because they play
hashtag games,’ you said. Toby considered
that for a moment. ‘Well, yeah, but why do you
think I said I love it?'” OK. That’s the first section. OK. So what I meant to say is–
I guess it didn’t really matter– Jeeves is
the one in Book One who makes a pronouncement that
Gladstone– who you wouldn’t really think, because he’s
stumbling around New York drunk– is the internet
messiah, the one who’s going to bring back the internet. And so as the book goes on, even
though he came to LA– sorry, just getting my
notes on my phone because I want to impress you
here at Google, no paper– as he doesn’t really connect
very well with his wife, he starts doing the only
thing else he can do, look for the internet. And in kind of a meta way, his
journal, which is Book One, sort of goes paper
viral in Book Two. People start photocopying
and sharing it and getting into his adventures. So almost like kind
of ass backwards, he stumbles into kind
of almost becoming this internet
messiah, the guy who’s going to find the internet. So they keep returning
to the Hashtag. And at this point
of the book, they’re trying to build an army, find
people who can join with them. And as he’s speaking to the
people, who’ve now all read Book One– you with me? It’s very– I guess everyone
throws the word meta around, but I’m pretty sure that that
is meta for real– says to him, you want a whole book talking
about how the internet sucks, how we’re all
addicted to it, and it has a terrible
effect on our lives, and we don’t know how
to live without it. So why are you
trying to find it, and why should we follow you? And the crowds about to
turn on him, a little bit– not quite like this one,
we’re not quite there– when someone says to him,
when someone shouts out, “‘Because he helped
me,’ a woman said. It was the long-lashed girl. She was standing now and
holding a blue copy of notes under her arm like a Bible. I could see the black
Cleopatra eye makeup creating the illusion
of larger eyes. She might have dabbed
some white in the corner, extending the sclera. That trick usually made you
look a little cross-eyed, but because her eyes were
already set slightly further apart, it seemed to work out. Regardless, it wasn’t
the makeup that made her eyes look so huge. It was because she could
hold all of me in her sight. She was seeing the man I hoped
to be and wouldn’t explain. The room went quiet,
and I looked at her along with everyone else. ‘Excuse me?’ I asked. ‘You helped me,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry. Do I know you?’ ‘We were Facebook friends.’ That didn’t help. I’d become Facebook
friends with lots of people I didn’t actually know. Mostly with people
I didn’t know. It’s much better that way when
you have no good news to post. ‘I’m Alana,’ she said. ‘And I
don’t usually look like this. I’m dressed as Oz for tonight.’ She smiled, and I
could see her now, even though I couldn’t
remember her last name. She saw me scanning drunken
late night memories for more. ‘We met online, like,
two years ago,’ she said. ‘Anyway, I was pretty depressed. I don’t want to get into
it, but you helped me. And I wanted to thank you,
although I guess I would like the internet back, too.’ If you’re a
functional alcoholic, it’s easy to find the
start of a lost weekend. It’s usually Friday night. But e-addiction is more subtle. They used to call BlackBerrys
crackberrys because of how often we checked them. But by the time the
iPhone rolled around, there was no cute name
for this affliction. Now it was just
something we did, and it was like
that for me, away to unwind evolved into
a way to see the world. I don’t know when it went
from a hobby to a way of life. But if you could
somehow quantify the mess of my
dropout virtual life, Alana probably existed
somewhere towards the start, the period shortly
after Romaya left, when I was no longer
going to work, but not quite yet the
near shut-in I’d become. She was a voice looking
for help at the moment I threw my scotch-laced
self into a comment thread on social media. I’m not sure how I helped
you,’ I said, ‘but I’m glad. You listened, and you heard
me when no one else would, when even my friends
wouldn’t listen.’ I wondered if I were
really that wonderful, or if her friends
were that awful. Probably neither was true. The internet deserved the
credit, because in real life, the hardest part about
being there for someone is knowing once you extend the
effort to make something right, once you take someone from
sad to happy, from suicidal to safe, they might ask you
to do it again, and again. And surely you run
that risk online, but it’s easier to say goodbye. People get blocked. They have their chat
privileges removed. There are more buffers between
you and the real connection, making it easier to
say hello and goodbye. Distance makes it easier
to answer cries for help, knowing the internet will never
let your good deeds trap you into a pattern of selflessness. Another man stood up. He was about my age, but had
a much kinder face than I do. ‘You helped me, too,’ he said. Standing there in
his cargo shorts and a t-shirt 10
pounds too small, he didn’t look familiar at all. ‘I posted an adoption profile
on Facebook when my wife and I were almost out of
hope, and you shared it, even linked it on your Twitter.’ I was not, as truly sad
people call themselves, Twitter famous. But my steady stream of puns
and off-color Tweets dead celebrities had amassed me
a following of about 7,000. Compared to someone
with an actual life, that meant a lot more exposure. So I understood why
he was grateful, even if I didn’t
remember the posting. ‘Did that lead you
to a baby?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said. ‘The baby
came about six months later, totally unrelated. But you have no idea how much
it meant to my wife and me. Sometimes a kindness from
someone you don’t even know can mean the most.’ ‘I’m glad.’ I
lingered for his name. ‘Ed.’ ‘I’m glad, Ed. Will you help me
bring back the net?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Alana, will you help
me bring back the net?’ ‘Yes.’ I addressed the whole room. ‘Do we have people here tonight
who will help me find the net?’ It wasn’t a unanimous
response by any means. But there was enough of a
communal yes to be encouraged. I looked at Toby and
he smiled back at me. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Here’s
what’s going to happen. As you might have
guessed, and as my friend with the hideous body
scarification earrings mentioned, Toby and I
are a couple of fuckups. Nevertheless, we’ve learned
more than you’d think possible. We’ve obtained information
we believe narrows the field of possible suspects. As you can
understand, that’s not something we’re
going to share freely with a room full of
unknown drunken Californian assholes like you. We want to know you better. So if you came to help, I’d like
to ask you to line up over here towards the left wall.’ People started to
gather their drinks. ‘If, however, I don’t know, you
came to be part of some book club, Cos Play Fun, and
possibly have sex with Toby, then hang to the right.’ ‘Thank you,’ Toby
said earnestly, like I’d finally
remembered the key point of tonight’s gathering. I felt the kind of
warmth inside me that recently had only
come from good scotch. I would have held the
moment, basked in it.” I jumped, so this
doesn’t quite make sense. “Alana’s face suddenly turned
from compassion to fear, her eyes growing as wide
as her makeup’s illusion. I turned around to see something
I couldn’t believe was real. It was Rowsdower. But now, he wasn’t all gussied
up for some TV appearance. He was in action, wearing a
tan student and a skinny tie with an immaculate knot. Perhaps most noticeable
was his fedora, right out of G Man
Central Casting. ‘Rowsdower,’ I said,
unaware I was even speaking. ‘Special Agent
Rowsdower,’ he corrected, and flashed his badge
inches from my face. ‘Wayne Gladstone?’ he asked. I even given my first name. Insufferable. ‘Yes.’ ‘You have been declared
a person of interest under the Net Recovery Act. As such, I’m empowered by
the United States government to request you follow
me for questioning. Will you be coming voluntarily,
or shall I place you formally under arrest?’ I didn’t respond, and
Rowsdower repeated himself. ‘WIll you be coming voluntarily,
or shall I place you formally under arrest?’ he insisted. ‘I thought I had a right to
remain silent,’ I protested. ‘You have no such right under
the Net Recovery Act,’ he said, and in one fluid motion cuffed
my hands behind my back before I could even think
of a witty rejoinder. Toby jumped off his stool. ‘What the fuck?’ he asked.
“i thought this was America.’ Rowsdower kept one
hand tight on my cuffs and placed the other
on Toby’s shoulder. ‘The Net Recovery Act
passed four months ago, son, and you’re still talking
about what was America? Please get out my way. I have a job to do.'” That’s when Gladstone
gets arrested. And while he’s away, his
reputation and the movement actually grows,
because now there is a symbol of oppression. There’s not something amorphous
like, who took the net? We’re good on time, so I’m
going to read one last section. And I left out something big. Anonymous has a clue for him. And when the internet
first came out, as I learned in my
research– and some of you probably know, or
definitely know, if you read a really
good book called “Tubes” by Michael
Blum– I don’t know, maybe he even spoke here. It’s a really great book. It was really helpful to me. And one detail I loved from
that was when the internet first existed, they had a phone book. Everyone’s name,
address, phone number, and their email address,
because there was only, like, 200 people who
had email addresses. And they were still in
that kind of thinking, like you needed a phone
book for the internet. And then it got a
little bit bigger because more people got online. And what Anonymous tells
Gladstone in this book is that they kept
making the book. Except instead of
it being everyone who was online or
everyone who had access, it became a list of the people
with power, the robber barons, or the hand in the glove
behind the machine, ghost in the machine, I should say. I’m not sure that first
metaphor made any sort of sense. Gloves? And it got smaller and
smaller and smaller, says Anonymous to Gladstone. So if you find the people
who are in this book, if you find this book
that has the few names of the people with power,
you’ll know who took it away. That’s kind of what guides
Blackstone’s Book Two mission. So Gladstone gets out of prison. The movement has been calling
people constantly at Google. They’re just placing–
someone’s phone rang. The movement’s been
growing up and people have been passing
around paper memes with the Messiah movement’s
logo and spray painting it everywhere. So when Gladstone
gets out of prison, he goes to Farmer’s
Market in LA, and he sees now signs of
a successful movement, and people spray painting
it on a clock tower. But that’s when, also,
the bombings start. And he comes from
Farmer’s Market, where he sees a
bunch of people die in a bombing in the shadow
of his group’s logo. And he’s dumped by our
friend Quiff Monster 42, the guy purporting to be
from Anonymous, in his limo. So I’ll read this last section,
and if there are any questions, then we can do that. OK. Thanks. “Toby drove while I lay in
the passenger seat reclined all the way back.” By the way, there’s a one in
10 chance, three in 10 chance, that I might cry
while I read this. We might have to
edit that in post, and that’s probably
why that dude left. “Toby drove while I
lay in the– Toby drove while I lay in the passenger
seat reclined all the way back. We pulled into a space
in his apartment garage but were pinned by a limo
as soon as he parked. The black tinted
glass rolled down with a mechanical
efficiency, revealing a man in a hell raiser pinhead mask. ‘Get in the car, jackass.’ ‘Quiff?’ I asked. ‘Do you know many other masked
men roaming around in limos, Gladstone?’ It was Quiff. But before I could decide
if I wanted to enter, Toby was inside, sticking
his head out the window right next to Pinhead. ‘Dude, come on. There’s a wet bar
and everything.’ I got in and the
car began to move. ‘Eventful first day out
of prison, Gladstone.’ ‘Yeah, man, it was
awful,’ Toby replied. I turned to Toby. ‘You know Quiff?’ ‘Of course,’ he
said. ‘I told you. Anonymous pitched in when
you went to the big house.’ The car pulled out
of Toby’s garage and out into Santa Monica. ‘So, Gladstone,’ Quiff said. ‘What happens now?’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. He shook his head. ‘If you’re going to be
the Messiah, Gladstone, you need to think more
than no moves ahead. This is chess, not
ants in the pants. I told you I wasn’t
looking for war. And I told you it would
find you anyway, didn’t I?’ I had no clever reply. ‘So I’m asking
you,’ he continued. ‘What happens now?’ ‘I don’t understand.’ Even
through Halloween store latex, I could tell Quiff
was disgusted with me. ‘Driver, turn on the
news,’ he shouted. Quiff sat back in his seat
and listened to a news story he’d already heard
in his head, one I hadn’t even begun to imagine. It was about the explosion
at the Farmer’s Market. That much was no surprise. But clearly that wasn’t
the important part. It was the ending, the part
about the newly formed Internet Reclamation Movement,
now seemingly called the Messiah Movement, being
suspected in the attack. ‘The hell,’ I screamed. ‘You didn’t see that
coming?’ Quiff replied. ‘Because it’s not
true,’ I protested. ‘Is it? Is it true, Toby?’ Toby was drinking
some of Quiff’s vodka. ‘What? No. I didn’t order anyone to
blow up a trolley,’ he said. Quiff turned professional. ‘What does that matter? A trolley blew up, and in the
shadow of your Wi-Fi fedora symbol, which is really
nice, by the way.’ I reached for the Scotch,
and Quiff interrupted me by placing an empty
glass in my hand. Then he poured me some
Auchentoshan Classic, which was behind the decanter
I was actually grabbing for. ‘You’re a suspect, Gladstone,’
he said. ‘So tell me, what happens next?’ ‘Well, driving around with
Anonymous 4chan, whatever the fuck you are, can’t
be a very good idea. It makes me look guilty.’ ‘That’s probably true,
but the association is already known,
enough to paint you as guilty if they want. So I suggest you
need all the friends you can get at this point,
friends you can trust. ‘Oh, right. Friends like masked vigilantes
known only to me by a dirty joke of a nickname.’ ‘I am the Batman,’ Toby said. ‘I’ve explained this to
you already,’ Quiff said. ‘In this environment,
the man in the mask is the only person
you can trust. Everyone else has
too much to lose.’ ‘OK, Quiff, what happens next? You tell me.’ ‘You will be blamed,’ he said.
‘You will be discredited. You will be vilified.’ Then, almost by cue, my
old friend Senator Bramson came on the radio. ‘I’ve been warning this
administration and anyone who will listen about this
so-called messiah for months, and for good reason. Look what this
movement has done. And what does this
administration have to show for it?’ I knocked back my drink and
put my head in my hands, running my fingers over my
face and through my hair like I’d seen
exasperated men do. ‘We’ll figure this out,
Gladstone,’ Toby offered weakly. ‘Cheer up,’ Quiff said. ‘Don’t
you realize Senator Bramson just became your best friend?’ ‘Ooh, with benefits?’
Toby asked. ‘Shut up, Toby. Yes,’ Quiff agreed. Take a break. We get it. You’re a moron.’ ‘How is she my friend?’ I asked. ‘Well, think about it. She’s blaming the NSA. The NSA just released you, so–‘ ‘I was being held by
the NSA?’ I asked. ‘Who do you think?’ Quiff asked. ‘I don’t know. That Rowsdower seemed
like such an FBI guy. ‘He is. He was. But he’s been tasked
as a foot soldier in the NSA’s affectuation
of the Net Recovery Act. So anyway, if Bramson
is blaming you, then NASA has two choices.'” Not NASA, NSA has two choices. NASA, too, really. It’s all connected. “‘They can arrest you again and
try to bury the fact that they ever let you go, or they can
dispute Bramson’s allegations, which means you won’t be blamed. We have to get you on
TV, deny any involvement, condemn the attacks, help
the government help you, because you know, if they do
need you to be the bad guy for this, then
nothing can help you.’ ‘You think that’s all it
takes, go on TV and say, hey, I have nothing to do with this?’ ‘Well, think about it. You’ll be so grateful
to the US government for not wielding
its net recovery power on your ass for
something you didn’t do, you’ll keep your nose clean. Think of it as a get
out of free jail card.’ ‘But that’s crap,’ Toby
said. ‘This movement goes on, and if they
lock up Gladstone, we’ll only grow stronger.’ ‘Hey, good for you,
Toby,’ Quiff said. I hated everything
about Quiff’s tone, but I also knew he was right. ‘So no,’ Quiff continued. ‘I think you should go on TV,
but I don’t think it’s enough. It’s a stopgap. It saves your ass for now
and allows the government to save face. But you’ll be compromised,
and they will never stop planning your destruction,
because if they lock you up again, Toby’s right, that
buys them another problem. But for now, yes,
going on TV will work.’ ‘Why so sure?’ I asked. ‘You
think I’m that charismatic that no one will doubt
my performance? You think the government
will take comfort from that?’ Quiff laughed. ‘No, Gladstone,
you’re probably right. If the government had
to rely on that alone, they’d probably be more nervous. But I think they have
another ace up their sleeve. Any guesses?’ Toby thought hard. ‘Aliens?’ ‘Tell us,’ I said. ‘The internet. I predict within the week
the net will make a return, just enough to quell unrest.’ ‘What does that get
them?’ Toby asked. ‘What does that get
them?’ Quiff barked. ‘How can you, of all
people, ask that? Indifference. Apathy. It gets them that. You’ve had the most
productive month of your life without the internet. It’s Governance 101. A content people are
less likely to rebel.’ ‘I thought that was the purpose
of religion,’ Toby said. ‘Yes, that too,’ Quiff agreed. ‘Professional
sports,’ I offered. ‘Right again. These are the things that make
capitalism work, the things that make you take
your eyes off how the system is rigged to fuck
the common man on behalf of the elite. You might be working more
for more for less, but hey, wasn’t that World Cup exciting? And don’t worry, you’ll
go to heaven ultimately while the rich burn in hell. So take comfort in that.’ ‘I feel like we’ve
gone off topic here.’ ‘Not at all,’ Quiff insisted,
‘because religion, sports, they don’t have a
thing on the internet.’ ‘It’s bigger than
Jesus,’ Toby smirked. ‘Bigger than Jesus, the
Beatles, Elvis combined. You can steal content for free. You can communicate without
long distance charges. You can zone out and do
nothing while feeling like you’re doing something for
days, days, your whole life. Why am I explaining
this to you, Gladstone? I read your book.’ I sat forward in my seat. I got close enough to
Quiff to see his eyes were blue, like mine, like that
Not Net creature I’d imagined in the Statue of Liberty
at the end of my New York investigation. ‘What’s wrong?’ Quiff asked. ‘Nothing. I just hate this. I hate it. Why does everything
have to be just– fuck.’ Quiff turned to Toby,
who nodded in agreement. ‘What he said.’ ‘Look, I know the net
was created by geniuses in conjunction with
the military,’ I said, ‘but I just can’t– why
can’t it just be a symbol of our ingenuity instead of
just another form of control? Can’t it just be a pure thing?’ ‘Like what?’ Quiff asked. ‘Nuclear power that can solve
the world’s energy concerns with just an
occasional Chernobyl? Or television that can bring
Shakespeare plays into people’s homes, as well as attack ads
during presidential campaigns? Grow up, Gladstone. There are no pure things. People are dirty.’ I’m going to up the ante on
me crying from, like, three out of 10 to six out of 10. Not there yet, though. You’ll know when I
devolve behind the podium. “I thought back to college. Romaya had taken a job
at a mall Starbucks kiosk before quitting due to all
the sexual harassment coming from her ecstasy-chopping
hippie boss. I’d come to pick her
up too early one day. I was always too early, but
this day I used the time to wander the mall. I wasn’t looking to buy anything
with just $12.00 in my pocket and too little in my checking
account to make a $20.00 minimum withdrawal. But I saw dollar
store and wondered if I might find something
stupid and fun to give her. Before I entered, I saw a
father with three girls, all with tidy, clipped,
ridiculously blonde hair, walking towards the store. His t-shirt and
jeans were stained, and I assumed he had
a job that didn’t require him to shave every day. Despite having
girls looking to be about ages 12, 10,
and eight, he couldn’t have been more than 30. The girls were leading the
way, but before they entered, they stopped and looked back
at their dad, who said proudly, ‘All right, girls. You can have anything you
want.’ They squealed and ran into the store like contestants
on a shopping spree game show. ‘What’s choking you up,
Gladstone?’ Quiff asked. But I didn’t answer. How could I explain
to him what I’d seen? How could I tell
them about a father who had nothing but
found a way to create a moment of unbridled
joy for his children? Were there words to describe
the hope, or at least the possibility, of this
man patching together enough tiny moments
so that by the time his girls realized
how desperately poor they were, they’d already
had a happy childhood? Or could I explain
what this father must have felt, knowing that
in a world trying to crush him with everything he didn’t have,
for this moment he was a hero? How could I explain any
of that to a man who didn’t believe in pure things? ‘I don’t think I can
explain it to you, Quiff. I believe in things.’ ‘I know you do, Gladstone. You’re a true believer. And that’s why going
on TV isn’t enough. After you do that, you’ll
have a choice to make. You’ll have to stop
your investigation and go away, or
raise a real army and shut this whole thing down. You find the latest
internet phone book, narrow your list of suspects,
and I’ll help you raise forces for attack.’ ‘Wait a second,’ Toby said. ‘If
you think the government can just turn the net back on,
doesn’t that also mean you think the government
shut it off? I thought we didn’t know
who was responsible. I thought that was the point
of finding the newest internet phone book, to limit the list
of suspects to just a few.’ Quiff paused for a second. ‘Yes, good point. But everything is
connected, always. No one can sustain
anything without some form of collaboration. Now it’s time to
gather your forces. It’s a matter of survival.’ ‘I don’t want an army. I don’t want to fight anyone.’ ‘What do you want?’ ‘I want to explain. I want to teach. I want to sit with
even a man like you, steeped in pragmatism, and
explain that pure things exist.’ ‘You’ll be sitting a
long time, Gladstone.’ ‘Well, then, I want to go home. Take me home. I have no idea where
you’ve taken me.’ ‘You are home,’ Quiff
said, unlocking the doors. I looked out the windows
for the first time to see we were right
outside Toby’s apartment. We were just circling
while we talked. I got up to leave
without saying goodbye. ‘Gladstone,’ Quiff said, handing
me a blank business card with a handwritten phone number. ‘Promise to call me when
you need that army.'” Thank you. That’s the reading. Thank you very much. How are we doing? We’ve got– we’re
at 12:36, so I guess we have time for any questions. And if not, I’ll probably
end up asking you questions, because I hate dead space. AUDIENCE: Well, I
do have a question. You mentioned some of the
research that you did. I’m kind of curious, as
a detail-oriented person, as many of us are here
at Google, to what extent was it important to you in
writing this that you try to get technical details right? Because obviously,
the conceit here is that somehow the internet
can crash, which is a little– WAYNE GLADSTONE: Correct. AUDIENCE: But once
you take that, how much did you really care
about having one thing follow from another? WAYNE GLADSTONE: I
care more about it with each book in
the trilogy because of the nature of the story. In notes, I did research. I read I read Blum’s book,
“Tubes,” which I really enjoyed. And I didn’t really
need to more than that because Book One is very much
in the protagonist’s head. It’s a very personal
story against the backdrop of an apocalypse. For Book Two, when we have a guy
doing actually investigation, I needed to understand it more. So I got a deeper
understanding of the players necessary to make
such a thing possible. I mean, I had to learn a lot
about the hubs, the main hubs of the world, learning that– as
I try to explain in the book– I didn’t want the book
to be overly technical, but I wanted to
explain to people, like, when I was a kid
before– the internet existed on campuses and the military,
but not in our daily life. But I worked a job where
everyone in the bookstore had email. But it was a bookstore email and
it was just within the company. And even though the minutiae of
the internet is very technical, the framework of
it is very simple. I mean, the sense that you
have to connect things. Things have to
literally connect, and really, a global
network is just an aggregation of lots
of little networks, and they all come together at, I
forget, five, six, seven places in the world where really
all the places in the world come together. For Book Three, which
I’m working on now, I had to do a lot of
research, and I still am because– not to
give anything away, but I had to find out more
about the deep web, which are those sites that
exist in the world but aren’t affiliated with
any search engine like Google or anyone else, a
whole other– someone had said that what we
think of as the internet is really just dragging a net
over the top of the ocean. And the worst people in the
world, pedophiles and drug rings, are existing as
deep sea on the bottom. So I didn’t want the book
to become overly technical, to answer your question. But I did want to have enough
of a foundation to not say anything completely stupid. That was the gist of it. And with each book, I’ve had to
do more research than the book before to learn those details. So that’s one question. Does anyone have
a second question? That’s a lot of pressure. No, I know, I know. Oh, OK. AUDIENCE: So you write things
on the internet for a living? WAYNE GLADSTONE:
Part of a living. AUDIENCE: I guess now you
also write things on paper. How much was writing
this in the first book, and the stuff that
led into it, was that like a cathartic,
like, no more internet, I’m done with this whole
thing kind of moment? Or was it more of a, I wonder
what would happen if this, then that? WAYNE GLADSTONE: No,
it’s a good question. Yeah. No reason for you to
stand while I answer it. That would be a drag. My identity as someone who
creates, in part of what I do, creating internet content,
does inform the book in several ways, because if
there’s one theme of the book, it’s that the internet is
not good and it’s not bad. The internet is people. That’s what the internet is. So your attempts to
define the internet are as fruitless and
foolish as your attempts to define humanity. And that’s a theme that
comes up over and over. So the point is, in the way that
I love people, I hate people. And in the way I love
the internet, especially for communication purposes
and information retrieval. That’s what I love
about the internet. That’s the way it
totally changed my life, that some of my best friends
did not live in my city, in my town, that there are
people I met– one of my best friends, I’ve known
him for over 10 years, and I’ve met him in
person, like, four times. Well, his name’s Matt Toby. He’s nothing like the
Toby in this book, but that’s why I used
that, because to me he was a green dot on
Gmail, which I do use, more than a human being. But why did– I think
a related question to what you’re asking
is, why did I name the character after myself? How does my own identity
as someone who writes online sort of inform that? And I initially named
him after myself because I started Book One
as a serialized novella on cracked.com. And I just thought,
since it was so weird to have
fiction on that site, it really wasn’t
hardly ever done, that it would be
helpful to the reader if I took this kind
of Gladstone persona that I’d created for my columns
and put it into a story. It would just help
guide them in. When it came time to
do the book properly, I was going to give him just
a name that wasn’t my own. But I was at the day job,
and I wanted a week off. And I got a call from my wife
at the time, who said, hi, we have absolutely no money. So I said, oh, I guess have
to write a column this week. And I really didn’t want to. And I just– this
sounds so false. It’s absolutely true. I just went, aah,
and closed my eyes and typed with my eyes
closed, and typed a paragraph, like a free writing,
which I’d done and they made you do in school,
and of course it always sucks. But it turned out to
be almost word for word the paragraph that starts
Book One, which is, like, “One day, without any
notice, suddenly the internet stopped working.” And I looked at it and I
expanded it out 1,000 words. And I knew instantly
it was like a novel. Or if it wasn’t a novel, it
was a movie, it was a trilogy. I knew it was big, and
I was terrified of it, and I didn’t want to do it,
because writing books is not a get rich quick
scheme, I guess, unless it’s twilight fan fiction
with lots of sex throw in. Then I guess it’s a
get rich quick scheme. Man, she’s going
to be so upset when she finds out I burned her. I’m talking about
“Fifty Shades of Grey.” So it seemed like a lot
of work for no reward. So I tried to get people to
convince me not to write it. So I showed my
friend Jason Roeder, who is now a senior
editor for “The Onion,” and I really downplayed it. I was like, could you
look at this thing I did? It’s 1,000 words. It’s nothing. Tell me it’s nothing. And he looked at it
and he said, yeah, I don’t really see
anything there. And I said, fuck
you, it’s a novel. And that’s why I wrote it,
because I’m so annoyed. I set him up to tell
me it wasn’t a novel, and that was the impetus
I needed to write it. And since, to save you
the burden of asking more questions, and to give me the
joy of hearing my own voice, the related part of that story
is, after I sold the book, I mentioned off-handedly
that I saw it as a trilogy. And my publisher said,
well, tell me about that. And without thinking–
well, I thought, but it took me half an hour. I wrote a page and 1/2
about broad strokes about where I saw the series
going, w because I thought maybe we’d talk about it. Oh, that sounds good,
that sounds bad. And the very next day my
agent called me and said, they want to make you
an offer on Book Two and Book Three before Book
One had even come out. And because I’m a
normal person, I got really pissed off, because
to me that was terrifying. I thought, OK, I’ll commit
this portion of my life to this book. But at least if it fails and
no one likes it, cut my losses. And I know that there’s a
Book Two and Three out there, but I’ll never waste
time writing it unless they ask me to. And they’re never
going to ask me to unless the first one
makes a lot of money. And they fooled me by asking
me to commit to the idea before I knew whether
or not it was proven. So from a guy who was really too
afraid to finish his paragraph free writing, I
somehow committed to writing three novels before
I had any idea if anyone would care about it. And now I’m working on the
third and still not sure. But, you know, those
people who do like it seem to like it an awful lot. And those who don’t– well, the
first review on Amazon Book One got was a woman who was
very, very upset because she didn’t approve of all
the cat rape in the book. There’s a reference to
a cat in Chapter One. As far as I know, there
was no animal sodomized in any of my literature. But the very first
review I got on Amazon was, this is disgusting. I didn’t finish it. I don’t approve of cat rape. But since then the response
has all been more positive. Is there anything else
I can answer for anyone? Oh, you got a question? Or should I ask my
question, one that usually catalyzes audiences? What do you want to do? You want to do it? What they would miss most
in an internet apocalypse. Is there anyone who
wants to answer that? Beside your job, I guess. That would suck. Although in Book Two, the Romaya
character interviews for a job at Google. And you should probably
all read the book just so you can curse me and be
like, that’s not like Google. It’s the California Google. I made a big ball pit. Now I don’t know there’s a
big ball pit at the California Google– it’s there? There is a ball pit? OK. Now I know there are
razor scooters here. Are there Segways
out in California? Does anyone ride a Segway? AUDIENCE: Bikes. WAYNE GLADSTONE: OK. Well, it’s a work of fiction. So it’s OK. Actually, is there a Segway? Yeah, OK. So there are Segways. So if you want to fact check
me, you should buy the book.

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