Joshua Cohen writes a novel for the Facebook age
Book of Numbers:
by Joshua Cohen
$28.00 List Price
Back in the last millennium (1993, to be exact), I was asked to serve as the house hipster on a panel at an advertising conference in San Francisco. At the time, digital marketing, the subject of the conference, was still bleeding-edge stuff, not the ubiquitous warp and weft of our matrixed present. These were the days of Al Gore’s fabled “Information Superhighway,” to be brought to you by that miraculous oxymoron, the “smart TV.” Mosaic, the first widely available Web browser, had just been released. For most, the Internet meant Prodigy, CompuServe, America Online—Candy Land interfaces known as “walled gardens” in the newspeak of Silicon Valley venture capitalists. For more intrepid users, those willing to learn a few UNIX shell commands, it meant little more than intimidating, time-sucking virtual “communities” on topic-based “bulletin boards,” all in plain ASCII text—unmoderated, immoderate precincts where you could encounter tattooed-dog subcultures, experiments in self-trepanation, and the finer points of Prince Alberts and other outré body mods. Anyone commenting on these boards could expect to be flamed daily by malevolent hackers and cantankerous trolls. (God help you if you ever tried to sell anything, even something as contextually appropriate as a vintage Moog synthesizer or a tattooed dog; you’d be banned, suspended, flamed out of existence.) There were no ads on the Internet, “relevant” or otherwise. I repeat: There were no ads on the Internet.
My fellow presenters were emissaries from the top US ad agencies and demographic-research firms. The attendees were