I love Jon Ronson's books and have now read a fair few of them. A couple of the more recent stand out in my memory (So You've Been Publicly Shamed and The Psycopath Test) but I still remember discovering Ronson with the brilliant Them: Adventures with Extremists. Ronson is also the only author that both me and hubby read - our tastes in reading diverge so wildly but Ronson brings us together.
Lost at Sea is a collection of his non-fiction articles that have appeared over the year. Endlessly compared to Louis Theroux (who I also love but like reading less than Ronson) this book covers a lot of weird and interesting ground. His writing style is so easy to read, and that doesn't mean simple, it's more like he's a good friend and he is telling you deeply interesting stories that surprise and intrigue. A modern day raconteur. I honestly can't get enough of his writing and every night going to be I looked forward to getting stuck in again.
Some of the tales that really stood out for me: Robbie Williams interest in aliens, where Jon joins him at a UFO convention and Robbie leaves with 15 DVDs, the Indigo children and the bizarre belief of their parents, when Jon joins the Alpha Course which terrified me and the tale about Jon spending time with Stanley Kubrick's files. But to be honest, I struggle to highlight tales because every single one is a damned delight.
Every day since I finished this book, I read about another person being shamed on social networking or in the media; Lord Sewell, this Wisconsin dentist who killed Cecil the lion, Gisele Bunchen for donning a burqha to get cosmetic surgery. I think Jon Ronson could add to this book once a month and will now become the cultural loudspeaker for all these shamed people.
The story starts on Twitter when Jon find that a couple of kids have created a spambot, an infomorph, in his name who tweets ridiculous things. He asks to meet the boys and asks them to take it down. You can see this meeting on youtube. It makes him think about online identity and how social media has become the public shaming forum of the modern age. Forget the stocks in the village square, only the villagers and possibly the neighbouring village would find out, but now a person can be shamed worldwide. Jon questions if this is right, what has it turned us into and whether or not public humiliation and shame is the worst punishment a person can suffer.
He picks some high profile people who have suffered irreparable damage through public shaming through a misplaced joke or other. People like Justine Sacco who tweeted a joke about not catching AIDS on a trip to Africa because she was white. The girl who posted a photo of herself flipping the bird in the Veteran's Cemetery. Two men who were tweeted about by another conference attendee as they cracked a few sexist jokes between themselves. Max Mosely.
What Ronson asks you to think about is quite complex. Did these people do anything really so bad? Did they deserve to have their entire lives ruined for something they did wrong once? Does experiencing and conceding to the shame make it worse and last longer? Does personal offence take precedence over common sense? Have we lost our sense of humour? Where does the line get drawn between a joke and a genuine sentiment?
There is now a company that works actively to bury your public shame in the internet graveyard - usually page 4/5 of a Google search. Ronson tests this out by asking the Veteran's Cemetery girl to use their services and I think, she breathes easier these days because of the experience.
There never has been a more timely book really and I do think about how quickly a person can be destroyed. How they can never escape it because once it's online, it's there forever. Then I consider those who set out to be destroyed online like Katie Hopkins. Jon Ronson has recently interviewed her. A follow up to this book will need to be written Mr Ronson.