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Bandwidth is the techno-thriller novel that we need right now

Cyrus Farivar

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter.

As I write these words, I have deliberately quit out of the app on my laptop so that I don’t have the temptation to toggle over to it, indulging an eight-second distraction between typed lines of this book review. In fact, in recent months I’ve tried to become more conscious of how and where I use Twitter.

It’s just so fun and so damned useful. Twitter mainlines breaking news for addicted journalists. It’s also freakin’ hilarious at times. (I can’t get enough of @RikerGoogling, and I have a penchant for @BodegaBot, too.) But I also know that it’s a RT-laden, hashtag-driven, self-indulgent miasma that I will certainly get sucked into if I’m not careful.

Since January 2018, the compromise that I have struck with myself is that I allow myself access to Twitter (and other social media, too) in very limited doses. I will only use it on my laptop, when TweetDeck makes it far easier to control than simply endless scrolling on my iPhone. OK, sure, I’ve cheated a few times. I’ve installed, deleted, re-installed, and deleted Twitter on my iPhone again within a single day. But, hey, in recent weeks, I’ve had better willpower than when I first began.

I bring all of this up simply to say that I grok what it means to be consumed by “the feed,” a non-corporeal character at the heart of Eliot Peper’s latest gripping novel, Bandwidth.

The new novel is a separate story set in the universe of Peper’s earlier all-too-near-future, Cumulus, which was released in 2016. Like Cumulus, I shudder as I recognize elements of present-day California in Bandwidth’s imagined version.

Peper’s latest explores a new variation on the theme of what it means to be inside someone’s mind or, more specifically, inside someone’s mind as manifest through their feed. Or put another way, how do algorithms manipulate one’s own emotional truth?

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Bandwidth revolves around Dag Calhoun, a lobbyist working on behalf of a telecom giant, Commonwealth.