Techno-Curmudgeonly Solutions for Life in a Wallacian Dystopia
Okay, so maybe the IJ-era David Foster Wallace wasn’t exactly Nostradamus when it came to the details of technological innovation: “cartridges”? “floppy disks”? “The Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade for Infernatron/Interlace TP Systems for Home, Office Or Mobile (sic)”?? Pfft.
On the other hand, when it came to the overall zeitgeist of technology in the 21st-century Wallace was in many ways right on the money:
What if, Veals’s spokeswoman ruminated aloud, what if the viewer could become her/his own programming director; what if s/he could define the very entertainment-happiness it was her/his right to pursue?
The rest, for Hal and the rest of us, is recent history. Think TiVo. Think personalized playlists. Think RSS feeds, YouTube, I-this, Me-that and My-other-thing.
The problem, of course, as noted by Wallace and just about every techno-grouch commentator since, is how isolating this can all be. E unibus pluram, and all that. How we’re turning into a nation of monadic despots, rulers of our own little balkanized echo-chambers, who fiercely celebrate and defend our collective right to say as much as we please while listening to as little as we want.
I say it’s time we take a stand against technologically-enhanced isolation and anomie. It’s time we relearn how to shut our yaps, listen to others and put that pluribus and unum back where they belong. And in the best U.S.A. fashion I say that we do this via expensive gadgets and monetizable web services. Below is a list of modest proposals for Infinite Jest-inspired solutions for life in our present-day techno-dystopia. All I need to make these dreams a reality is a venture capitalist with an appreciation of irony a whole shitload of money to burn. Who’s with me?
Slogan: “Shut the fuck up and just listen” (p. 353)
Spokesperson: Ferocious Francis
FEROCIOUS FRANCIS: “Allright look. You seem like a good bunch of kids. Really. You’re all into your music, downloading this and that from here and there and making up your playlists and whatnot, and of course talking about it and sharing it with your friends and going on about how important your music is to you. The thing is, though, we both know that for most of you, your musical touchstones are the Jonas Brothers and whatever limp-wristed alterna-pop they’re peddling on Grey’s Anatomy this week. Well I say fuck Grey’s Anatomy, fuck the Jonas Brothers, and fuck you too.
This here is the YouPod. It’s just like the iPod – you buy the damn thing at a store, you go to YouTunes and download your Jonas Brothers and your whatever else, and then you listen. But here’s the thing – with the YouPod, you never get to listen to the crap you download yourself. Instead, you listen to what other people download. Every time you hook up your Pod to your PC you download a new playlist created by some random stranger you’ve never met. Maybe one day it’s a trucker from Iowa, the next it’s a coke-whore from New Bedford. Real horizon-broadening stuff, you know? Burn that cotton right out of your ears and teach you how to listen.
So remember: the YouPod: Shut the fuck up and just listen.”
Slogan: “I am in here” (p. 1)
Spokespeople: Hal Incandenza and Charles Tavis
C.T.: “What Hallie means to say over there is that he really likes little songbirds. Everybody does, right? The perky, twittering kinds that chirp and cheep all day long? But here’s the thing: every once in awhile you find yourself wishing that all those birds would just cut the racket and give you some peace and quiet.
Enter Hooter. Hooter is a corrective add-on to Twitter that prevents you from actually sending any tweets. Hallie sit still. You just type in your update as you normally would — for example, Hallie here might type in “I am having trouble making myself understood” – and but Hooter automatically deletes it before it even gets posted. Rather than the chirpy little sparrow, you become the wise and silent owl, like Harold Jr. here. Jesus, Hal, neutral expression, neutral, remember? You think instead of tweet. You don’t broadcast, you ruminate. Who knows what strange fruit your thoughts may bear now that they can be nurtured and fed within the safe warm confines of your owlish brain? Congratulations: you are in here. And so is Hal.”
Solution: NousTube (sponsored by Habitant soupe aux pois)
Slogan: “Rien de bonk” (p. 428)
Spokesperson: Remy Marathe
MARATHE: “The YouTube tells one to ‘broadcast oneself,’ yes? Just one problem, for the U.S.A. persons who would broadcast themselves: nobody else is giving the feces to them. To the rest of the 5 billion inhabitants of the world the sacred individual U.S.A. person is simply The Other. He is foreign, uninteresting and unknowable, with similarity to my colleague Hugh Steeply and his ridiculous lopsided tits. I see the YouTube of Steeply and his tits that Steeply uploaded of himself, and it makes him foreign to me. I do not understand him. I wish to give him the bonk on the head for to take his delicious Habitant soupe aux pois from him. And Steeply and his tits, their feeling for me is the same.
NousTube makes the bridge between this Self and this Other by taking the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ and turning them into the ‘We’ (‘nous,’ as one says in Papineau). The NousTube member does not broadcast the self — only the other. I do not videotape myself; I videotape Steeply and his tits of ridiculousness. And so, I am understanding him better. He is no longer The Other to me – he is the Laura Dern to my David Lynch, the Madam Psychosis to my author of the samizdat. We are mediated in togetherness through the filming, yes? I am no longer wishing to bonk him on the head, now. NousTube: rien de bonk.”