“As a child plotting my future adulthood, I couldn’t imagine becoming someone who ogled the glow of screens and sweat-clenched the square edges of devices,” writes Felicity Fenton in her new chapbook, User Not Found. “Not once did I believe I would partake in an incessant perusal of digital walls, skimming notes and pictures from others about their physical and emotional whereabouts, or that I would send others notes and pictures about mine.” This idea is what the chapbook’s single, long-form lyric essay hinges on: Though most people have accepted our collective social-media addiction, it isn’t what any of us dreamed our lives would look like.
If User Not Found had a firm timeline or a narrator with clear goals, it would likely feel like a gimmick-fueled memoir about the difficulties of quitting social media. But as a lyric essay, where Fenton lets personal experience and imagined scenarios mix with abandon, it becomes a joyride. It’s a think-piece on our preoccupation with screens. The conclusions are pragmatic, but they’re found through fun and playful prose.
While the chapbook looks at the large-scale ways our obsession is silly or sad, it’s a personal journey more than a cultural critique. Fenton isn’t trying to create the ultimate social-media analysis. She simply wants to snap herself out of casual acceptance and hopefully, in the process, snap others out of it too—if only for a moment.
“I feel sorry for all users and long to free them from the walls,” she writes. “Let’s eat pie, I think. Let’s stare at the back of each other’s hands. Let’s talk about the weather. Let’s make out. I want to smell you! I look outside. Orange with thwacks of blue. It’s easy to put my shoes on, to open the door.”