In the beginning Gore created the Internet, and for a while it wasn’t completely awful. Nyan Cat sired Grumpy cat, the Ice Bucket Challenge generated the dress, and the birds practically got angry. These days, not so much. We walked to the edge of the walled garden and briefly pointed to the door. We are all sinners in the hands of an angry doge.
OK, but what if the screens suddenly go dark? What would life be like then? Chris Colin, a writer who directs a children’s journal on the theme of the pandemic out of the Bay Area, answers this question in his new book OFF: The day the Internet died (A Bedtime Fantasy).
Illustrated by Rinee Shah and written in Genesis style (as in Book of, not in group), DISABLED invites readers to imagine weeks, decades, centuries without the Internet. The characters take IRL walks; they play Minecraft with sticks and leaves; they enter D&D.
WIRED spoke with Colin about DISABLED and her children’s thoughts on spinach. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What first made you think about writing this book? Was there a particular moment that inspired him?
I was coming out of this Profile of Marc Benioff I wrote for WIRED, which had gotten pretty intense. Doing something funny with pretty pictures sounded good. Furthermore, the internet was helping to destroy the fabric of our society at the time, while sucking our souls from our bodies on a personal level. And I don’t mean to sound boastful, but I had visited hundreds of websites before. So I was quite familiar with the terrain.
As for the special times, it’s more that my discomfort with the internet was gradually boiling over multiple platforms. Suddenly, it seemed to degrade our free time, our jobs, our speech, our democracy and our sanity – all the while becoming more and more inextricable in every corner of our lives.
A few years ago, I said yes to an editing gig at a big tech company on the Peninsula. As I got on the famous tech bus, I discovered that the passengers had a clear view of every car that passed on the 280. You see them straight away. One day I looked down and saw a little old lady in a Camry not reading her phone while she was driving.
She was the only one. Every other damn person was texting and driving, constantly. I got mad at the first 7 million of them. Then I realized they were the symptom, not the disease. And the disease can only be cured by a picture book.
So, are you a closet Luddite?
The opposite! I wrote a Luddite book and I am locked in my ambivalence!
Moreover, my career would vaporize without the Internet, the online news I started to cease to exist, and my own children should have been educated by our toaster last year. So – stop being serious for a moment – a billion far less privileged people would actually be screwed.
But the fact that people are so totally dependent on the Internet seems to me one more reason to rethink this whole arrangement. If the well-being of my family depended on my daily intake of a little mercury, I would consider radical changes.
Why does the book begin “on the 11,402nd day”?
It was the largest number I could think of.
Why did you choose to write with the voice of Goofy Old Testament?
The book imagines a fundamental reset, a kind of regeneration. Looks like you’re supposed to be talking about the Bible for things like that. Plus, if you’re hinting at Extreme Dog Fails and other internet age inventions, the occasional “hath” and “come to me” really does give you gravity.
Let’s talk about Rinee Shah’s illustrations. People look like they are stepping out of a medieval church painting; they have flowing robes and halos and that “frightened shepherd” expression. But the dad also wears’ 80s athletic socks, and they all hold phones and tablets. There is a similar thing from top to bottom with the typography. How did it all happen?