This is a website for a book about a website. To clarify: this website is where I blog about a book-in-progress called Dead SULs, which is about a website you may have heard of once or twice, Facebook.
The idea for this novel first occurred to me when I read that brands and celebrities looking for a quick way to up their friend or follower counts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks often buy all that adoration. In fact there’s a whole backchannel trade in online user profiles.
So this creepy practice made me think of a book from my freshman-year Russian Lit seminar, the class where a group of us had a competition to see who could read the least but talk the most. (A monumental waste of tuition money, I know.)
Anyhoo Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol’s “epic poem in prose,” is a wicked satire of Russia’s social system ca. 1842, when the novel was first published. (And you can read it – for free! – thanks to Project Gutenberg.)
[Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know what Dead Souls is about, skip ahead to the next paragraph.] Gogol’s plot involves a mysterious stranger traveling the Russian countryside trying to buy “souls” – dead serfs – from wealthy landowners. See in mid-19th century Russia the state considered peasants, indentured servants who worked the land, as property. So even after serfs died landed proprietors still had to pay taxes on them, at least until the next official census count. Gogol’s main character offers to take these so-called “dead souls” off of their owner’s hands because he has a whole scheme in mind; basically he’s a swindler, a proto-Bernie Madoff, and he plans to take out a huge loan against all the souls so he can retire to the countryside and not have to work another day in his life. Cool concept, right? WTF w/ the historical practice of slavery, right?
So in my adaptation of Gogol’s genius book, the main character is a tech company founder, and he’s trying to buy up dead SULs – Suspended User Lists – from Facebook. He’s making the rounds of the startup scene trying to convince other CEOs to participate in this basically illegal practice of selling people’s FB accounts so that… well you’ll have to keep reading to find out!
This is my first time both writing a novel and blogging about it. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but as designer Bruce Mau once wrote of the avant-garde composer John Cage, “not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.” So here we are, then, at the beginning.
I hope this experiment is fun for all of us!