It’s time for a survey
July 19, 2010
Gary Shteyngart is a funny guy. His new book, Super Sad True Love Story, follows the obsessions and catastrophes of the information age, and I can’t wait to read it!
In Garyland, “books are extinct, eternal life can be purchased by the elite, subways offer business class and see-through jeans are the latest fashion.” (hat tip to Deborah Solomon’s Q&A in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine). It’s fiction, but it feels like many of these things are underway already.
Not many novelists, apart from Douglas Coupland, write about the present, but Shteyngart wonders in the Times piece, “How could you not write about today? It’s so fascinating. When civilization takes a nose dive, how can you look away? You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be at the bottom of the swimming pool taking notes.”
Here are a few things that get Gary cracking his satirical whip:
• Our new and not-so-improved attention spans: “I can only read 20 or 30 words at a time before taking out my iPhone and caressing it and snuggling with it.”
• The death of reading: “Maybe we’re all wrong and there’s going to be a huge comeback in 10 years where all the kids are going to drop their iKindles and start reading like crazy. ‘Dude, did you read the latest Turgenev? It’s so sick. This dude is like all over the subject of love and serfdom.'”
• Our lack empathy: “The idea that it’s important to learn how another person thinks, to enter the mind of another person, the whole idea of empathy is gone. We are now part of this giant machine where every second we have to take out a device and contribute our thoughts and opinions.”
Gary jokes “Dystopia” is his middle name but others, like Jeremy Rifkin, see a different outcome for the information age. Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization, is a frequent “contributor” to this blog. He believes the internet will hasten global consciousness and help us through our most pressing crises, and the environmental crisis, in particular.
In a talk that was both peppy and philosophical, Rifkin told the kids at Google last January that they have a special mission at this pivotal point in history …
Our lives are unrepeatable. This existential sense of our selves, the idea that we have a one and only history that allows us to feel the same thing in another person, to feel their struggle and their desire to fluorish, that’s what brings out a sense of solidarity in all of us. Think about it, our most alive moments are when we have that feeling of death and life together, when we feel empathy. I think the awe of life is bound in us, that we’re hardwired for empathetic distress. So imagine a scenario in which we could extend that central nervous system to the entire human race through technology? I think our digital consciousness is doing this, or could. Google has the potential to create a biosphere awareness. When communications revolutions come together with energy revolutions those are pivotal points in history because they change human consciousness. They expand our empathic horizons.
What’s your stance on this? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Have your say in the poll below.