In his novel Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart writes about a society, five minutes into the future, that has a weird neurotic relationship with gadgets and social media, as focused through a device called an "äppärät." Now, Shteyngart has tried the Google Glass, and in many ways the future he wrote about seems to have arrived.
Writing in the New Yorker, Shteyngart mulls over the information overload and dissociation that come from wearing the Google Glass for a long time period — and sounds a note that will seem familiar to other science fiction writers: When you write about the near future, you run the risk of having your futurism turn into ancient history by the time your book is in people's hands.
My novel—a love story between Lenny, an aging son of a Russian immigrant and the last book reader on earth, and Eunice, a younger, fully digital Korean-American woman—proved prescient all too quickly. New York City parks occupied by protesting ninety-nine-per-centers, transparent women’s clothing, and a general giddy sense that privacy is kind of stupid—all became reality right after “Super Sad” ’s publication, making me feel like a very limited Nostradamus, the Nostradamus of two weeks from now.
I had become an avid iPhone user while researching “Super Sad.” The device became a frightening appendage to a life of already sizable anxiety. My phone became a reproving parent that constantly bade me to work harder, a needy lover that beeped and clanged and marimba’d her demands through the left-hand pocket of my jeans, a sadistic life coach constantly reminding me that, whatever I was doing, there were more fascinating things to be done. Returning to the novel five years after its completion, I had the general sense that I had allowed technology to run me over. Now I was more Eunice than Lenny, an occasional rather than a voracious reader, a curator of my life rather than a participant, a man who could walk through a stunning national park while looking up stunning national parks.
I had a general idea of how Lenny and Eunice could romance each other on the screen, but I was unsure of how to televise one detail: the all-powerful device used by my denizens of the future called an äppärät. This umlaut-ridden contraption, which looks like a smooth white pebble worn around the neck, constantly beams holographic data and streaming video at eye level. The äppärät’s most useful function is RateMe Plus, an endless series of rankings its wearers undergo in categories such as Fuckability and Male Hotness. Lenny naturally had a lot of problems with his Fuckability—entering a bar in newly chic Staten Island (one prediction that has not yet come true), he is immediately and publicly ranked as the fortieth-ugliest man out of the forty men present.
The first drafts of “Super Sad” had a technology called The Eye, which was basically an äppärät inside a contact lens. My editor suggested that it was a little much, and it certainly was in 2008, at a time when even the first iterations of the iPhone seemed like they were beamed back to our world from some glorious future civilization in Cupertino. By 2013, having a miniature screen above my right eye tell me all about “Ashton Kutcher’s new job” feels about right.
Check out the whole thing over at the New Yorker.