Book Review: User Not Found
Reviewed by Joe Walters
Part personal-essay, part lyrical think-piece, User Not Found is an unpretentious and quick-witted exploration of the author’s journey into understanding social media and out of a life that abuses it.
Felicity Fenton used to spend too much time on social media. She’d be the first to tell you. Aside from a few short-lived attempts to disappear from it, she would log on daily, scroll for too long, and finally put it down—only to return a short while later to catch up on what she’d missed.
If you’re being honest, she might sound a little like you.
Then, a digital acquaintance erases her. They unfollow her. Unfriend. And for some reason, she’s feeling kind of bummed about it. Did she do something wrong? Which pictures, posts, or comments caused this user to erase her? Or, instead, was it not her that the eraser erased but the person she portrayed herself to be?
“I’ve become a disappointment to my past future dreamer. This is a disappointment I want out of.”
Reading User Not Found offers social media users a truly unique thinking experience. As Fenton steps away from her device, she takes the reader along with her, guiding them toward realizations about the people inside their phones as walls, users, notifications, and personal brands. She breaks down the social web with sharp humor, the words you wish you could come up with, and somehow, a perfectly unassuming tone.
The essay confronts the taboo of our collective addiction from an outside lens and from someone who has actually disappeared from it; it encourages a separation from the social media self without ever telling you that you have to.
“You try on a million faces…attempting to live up to the image you spotlight on walls.”
User Not Found might sound like it belongs in the self-help section for the perpetually scrolling, and like a book that will end with a cheesy, big-hearted moral to bring it all home, but that’s not even close to the case.
To me, User Not Found is essential nonfiction for the social media age, a personal essay with such refined and exacting language that is impossible to reproduce without quoting the entire thing. Fenton proves to be the exact right person for this job, and I couldn’t be happier that she’s taken it on.
Rife with bulletin-board quotes like, “Digital applause makes art seem less lonely” and filled with unique perceptions like comparing social media stalking to picturing “the general cleanliness of [another user’s] refrigerator,” this book could be an excellent pocket companion for any social media user interested in what is happening to their brains. It could be that gentle reminder on their desk, too, nudging them, asking the hard questions like, “What are you even looking for in there?” But it could also just be one hell of a good read.
So if you’re looking to spend a little less time on social media, do yourself a favor and grab User Not Found. But if you’re not, do it anyway. And when you’re done, throw a pebble at my window. We’re going to have to talk about this.