The vast majority of citizens in Astra City are addicted to the lives they have online in Social Media Central. Tayler, however, is not one of these people; he refuses to have an online profile and still watches old movies to pass his time, rather than sharing a mirror-meal with his latest cyberfriend. At least, that is until Tayler is spotted by Social Media Central’s queen and star fashion blogger, Madeline Q. One party later and Tayler is sucked into Madeline’s world and is on the payroll of Social Media Central’s leader, the Government. Tayler becomes a star in its ascendancy until the dead body of a young woman is found in the bathtub at another party he and Madeline have been paid to attend. Tayler, Madeline, and their friends, Connor and Shaun, immediately become suspects and Social Media Central takes on the role of judge and jury. Tayler has to keep his head to outwit the Government and attempt to uncover the darker aspects of Social Media Central.
Kevin Klehr’s latest release is a novel set fifty years into the future, yet it is the premise that interested me. I have lost count of the number of times that I have sat around a table with family or friends and we have all been on our phones rather than engaging in conversation. There is no doubt that we live in a digital era and there are positive aspects to that, but the power of social media in our lives cannot be denied.
In Klehr’s story, Madeline, Shaun, and Connor have all gained their notoriety and fame on Social Media Central: Madeline as as fashion blogger, Shaun by chronicling his sexual conquests on Lovers Net, and Connor by photographing their every move. Dressing in the latest fashion and attending the lavishly arranged parties has become their life and occupation. Here Klehr reflects so much of our contemporary reality with his fiction and it reminded me of the current fame of stars like the Kardashian family, who are supposedly able to break the internet with their posed selfies. Klehr’s imaginary world, run by Social Media Central, is so close to the lives we currently live that it is thought provoking and the power that the online world has in his novel is frightening and eye-opening, making the reading experience not just an escape, but a lesson for us all.
Social Media Central does twist and turn, uncovering moments of concealed power and darkness. The story has been previously compared to George Orwell’s 1984 and the parallels between them cannot be ignored. I also find it interesting that Klehr would have written his novel before the latest scandal with Facebook and there is a strong case here of art imitating life.
However, I did have some difficulty with Social Media Central and this had to do with Klehr’s characters, in particular the protagonist, Tayler, who I did not find at all likeable. Admittedly, he is the main questioner of the Government and the power of the social media giant in the lives of those around him. For Tayler, this begins with his landlady who is losing her grip on reality and spending all her time talking to her cyberfriends. However, as soon as Tayler meets Madi, Shaun, and Connor, he appears flattered and happy to be drawn easily into their world; his doubts, to some extent, become replaced by his assimilation. I am not sure whether the fact that Tayler is such a fickle character was intentional on the part of Klehr, but I was not convinced by Tayler’s multiple and contradictory responses to situations, which included his anger at his landlady, his sycophancy, and his supposed rebellion.
I may have found Tayler uninspiring, but the effect he has upon people he comes into contact with is intriguing in terms of the story. It is Tayler’s idea of people engaging in “Movie Night” that contributes to the Government’s intervention, but when we find Tayler, Madi, and Connor in dire trouble, Klehr ensures we fully understand the full force of Tayler’s influence. I liked the fact that we have read the novel questioning the quality and relevance of relationships in Tayler’s world, but we are left with the message that no matter what, friendship is abiding and strong.
There are some interesting themes running throughout Social Media Centraland though there were areas of the story that did not entirely satisfy me as a reader, I would recommend the book.