An Introduction to "1916: The Blog"
A book of humor by Christian Schneider, now available on Anti-Knowledge
“What if the internet existed a century ago?” It is a simple question with an entertaining answer.
A lively and humorous novel of alternate history, “1916: The Blog” tells the story of my imaginary great-grandfather Sebastian, a low-level newspaper typist who in 1916 comes into possession of a futuristic connectivity machine. The typewriter-like device sends written telegraph-style messages to other users through telephone lines, allowing the other users of this secret, experimental technology to read and comment on Sebastian’s musings.
It is a novel Kirkus Reviews called a “smart, layered satire for historians and cultural critics alike.”
The book “delivers plenty of laughs, portraying historical events without the perspective of hindsight and understanding and viewing Sebastian’s 20th-century ideas through 21st-century technology,” writes Kirkus.
And now, for the first time, the book is available online to paying subscribers of the Anti-Knowledge newsletter.
If you are a paying Anti-Knowledge member, you will get each of the chapters delivered to you on Mondays and Thursdays. You will also be able to comment on the chapters as they are released and discuss them with other Anti-Knowledge paid readers.
If you aren’t yet a paying member, you can start reading the book’s prologue here. The first chapter for paying members will be available on Thursday, January 5, 2023.
The book will be the first paid content on Anti-Knowledge, but there will be more to come. If you finish the book and want to go back to the free subscription, you are certainly welcome to. But stick around and there will be more fun content to come for paid subscribers.
Oddly enough, back when I began pitching the book to publishers, I suggested some sort of model by which the book would be serialized online. And now Substack has given me the chance to do just what I had intended all along.
As for the book itself, “1916: The Blog” is an observant satire of the modern internet culture, as Sebastian runs into early-20th Century scams, snake oil salesmen, medical quacks, dating sites, trolls, and conspiracy theorists. The story mixes extensively researched true events from the year 1916 with a fictional narrative documenting the experiences of a low-level newspaper worker in the American Midwest.
Throughout the year, Sebastian finds himself in amusing predicaments borne of the Progressive Era, which was at its height in 1916. Almost all the stories in the book actually happened; in that sense, it is a work of true fiction. Of course, many of the events of a century ago have a specific resonance even today; in the 1916 presidential race, Republicans were fending off a takeover of their party by a fringe element. Americans were deluged by “fake news” run by partisan newspapers. Foreign governments attempted to influence the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections in order to alter the balance of World War I.
The book is written in periodic installments, as if Sebastian were blogging as real-world events unfolded. During the year, Sebastian offers his thoughts on the 1916 presidential race, the United States’ impending entry into World War I, America’s manhunt to find Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa, and the soon-to-be imposition of Prohibition – all without the benefit of a long-term historical perspective.
In this sense, he is offering hyperbolic, real-time opinions without complete information, a characteristic that often defines modern internet discussion. Further, the nation was struggling with an influx of immigrants who spoke little English and chose not to assimilate – only then, it was Italians, Germans, and Poles that drew the nation’s ire.
With war against Germany looming, Germans were especially singled out for discrimination – a trend that continues with ethnicities in America currently seen as enemy combatants. Today’s gender conflicts also have deep roots in the suffragist movement that was at its peak in the early 20th century, and modern debates over drug legalization still echo the prohibitionist arguments made prior to the Volstead Act of 1919.
By detailing the modern rise of the internet in a past time frame, the book is able to demonstrate changes to our contemporary culture that we may not even fully realize. For instance, the 1916 device detailed in the book allows for anonymous users, leading to a quick decay in decorum and wasted promise for the technology. Users eventually become dependent on the machine, and while real people are now more connected, they feel more alone, as they begin to take every moment someone is not messaging them to be a conscious decision to ignore them. Users begin public shaming efforts, take information wildly out of context, and begin conspiracies that have been debunked for a century.
Even though “1916: The Blog” is a book of humor, it demonstrates the potential of interconnectedness that we are squandering. But most of all, “1916: The Blog” is a funny look at how we have all both changed and stayed the same over the past century. Briskly written with airy language, it offers sharp insights into what promise the internet still holds, and serves as a cautionary tale as to how the gift of interconnectedness is bound to go horribly wrong when real human beings get involved.
So subscribe to Anti-Knowledge and get ready for a fun journey into the past. Be sure to check out the book’s prologue, which I have posted for free.
Some more information on the book:
I visited a television station in Milwaukee to discuss “1916: The Blog:”
I also stopped by a station in Madison to discuss the book:
The book also got a great write-up at National Review Online, which can be read here.
I own a print copy of the book and it sits on my bookshelf. It is a great read. I encourage everyone to upgrade to paid to read this fun alt-history tale.