Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: "All This Life" by Joshua Mohr

Tremendously thought-provoking, compelling, and slightly disturbing, Joshua Mohr's All This Life is an intriguing commentary on the chaos wrecked by society's constant obsession with social media, and how it simultaneously connects and disconnects us. (And yet, here I sit, posting this review on my blog and multiple social media sites...)

It seemed like just an ordinary morning on the Golden Gate Bridge. Countless commuters are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, including Paul and his teenage son Jake. Then suddenly the morning doldrums are broken by a seemingly unbelievable group of people who appear from out of nowhere—and then absolutely astound onlookers with their actions. Jake, riveted in disbelief, captures the entire incident on his phone and quickly posts the video, achieving viral success and garnering online fame—and criticism.

At the same time, in a small town, 18-year-old Sara is distracted by the coverage of the cataclysmic event in San Francisco by her own media event: her boyfriend has posted their sex tape online, and she becomes both a pariah and an online obsession. Needing to get out of town, to escape the criticism and pointing fingers, she enlists the help of Rodney, her old boyfriend whose injury in a freak accident three years earlier derailed his life and their relationship, but not his feelings for Sara.

As the lives of Paul, Jake, Sara, Rodney, and others are affected and transformed by tweets, social media posts, text messages, and online videos, they also must confront problems they never expected. They struggle with being judged, cajoled, criticized, and occasionally praised by people they've never, and will never, meet, and they'll also deal with feeling more alone than ever before despite being connected to people all over the world.

"This is how the world works. This is why we're smarter now: We share everything with everyone, have access to each sight and sound. We are informed and connected!"

As someone who is pretty active on many different forms of social media, but sometimes falls prey to obsessing over the number of friends, followers, likes, or retweets I get, I found this book really fascinating and powerful. Mohr weaved a number of seemingly disparate storylines together, and all but one seemed like a story you'd hear about from a friend, or perhaps see through a post on your friend's Facebook wall or Twitter feed, or perhaps see on a YouTube video. He is an excellent storyteller, and this book really made me think.

If I have any criticism of All This Life, it's the appearance of one random character whose presence threatened to derail the entire book, but luckily Mohr didn't let his characters fall prey. So many issues, emotions, and tough questions are pondered here, but the book never really seems heavy; it seems very current and relevant. Well done, Joshua Mohr!

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