Choicelessness

Caps Off to David Foster Wallace

Posted in books, technology by johnsnavely on November 8, 2008

I have been thinking about this part of Wallace’s Infinite Jest so gosh darn often these days, that I thought I’d literally rewrite part of it here– just give myself a fresher memory to pull from. Here’s the beginning. Copied verbatim. (DFW, you are sadly missed. There’s one less genius in the world.)


WHY- THOUGH IN THE EARLY DAYS OF INTERLACE’S INTERNETTED TELEPUTERS THAT OPERATED OFF LARGELY THE SAME FIBER-DIGITAL GRID AS THE PHONE COMPANIES, THE ADVENT OF VIDEO-TELEPHONING (A.K.A. ‘VIDEOPHONY’) ENJOYED AN INTERVAL OF HUGE CONSUMER POPULARITY- CALLERS THRILLED AT THE IDEA OF PHONE-INTERFACING BOTH AURALLY AND FACIALLY (THE LITTLE FIRST-GENERATION PHONE-VIDEO CAMERAS BEING TOO CRUDE AND NARROW-APERTURED FOR ANYTHING MUCH MORE THAT FACIAL CLOSE-UPS) ON FIRST-GENERATION TELEPUTERS THAT AT THAT TIME WERE LITTLE MORE THAN HIGH-TECH TV SETS, THOUGH OF COURSE THAT HAD THAT LITTLE ‘INTELLIGENT-AGENT’ HOMUNCULAR ICON THAT WOULD APPEAR AT THE LOWER-RIGHT OF A BROADCAST/CABLE PROGRAM AND TELL YOU THE TIME AND TEMPERATURE OUTSIDE OR REMIND YOU TO TAKE YOUR BLOOD-PRESSURE MEDICATION OR ALERT YOU TO A PARTICULARLY COMPELLING ENTERTAINMENT-OPTION NOW COMING UP ON CHANNEL LIKE 491 OR SOMETHING, OR OF COURSE NOW ALERTING YOU TO AN INCOMING VIDEO-PHONE CALL AND THEN TAP-DANCING WITH A LITTLE INCONIC STRAW BOATER AND CANE JUST UNDER A MENU OF POSSIBLE OPTIONS FOR RESPONSE, AND CALLERS DID LOVE THEIR LITTLE HOMUNCULAR ICONS- BUT WHY, WITHIN LIKE 16 MONTHS OR 5 SALES QUARTERS, THE TUMESCENT DEMAND CURVE FOR ‘VIDEOPHONY’ SUDDENLY COLLAPSED LIKE A KICKED TENT, SO THAT BY THE YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADILT UNDERGARMENT, FEWER THAN 10% OF ALL PRIVATE TELEPHONE COMMUNICATIONS UTILIZED ANY VIDEO-IMAGE-FIBER DATA-TRANSFERS OR COINCIDENT PRODUCTS AND SERVICES, THE AVERAGE U.S. PHONE-USER DECIDING THAT S/HE ACTUALLY PREFERRED THE RETROGRADE OLD LOW-TECH BELL-ERA VOICE-ONLY TELEPHONIC INTERFACE AFTER ALL, A PREFERENTIAL ABOUT-FACE THAT COST A GOOD MANY PRECIPITANT VIDEO-TELEPHONY-RELATED ENTREPRENEURS THEIR SHIRTS, PLUS DESTABILIZING TWO HIGHLY RESPECTED MUTUAL FUNDS THAT HAD GROUND-FLOORED HEAVILY IN VIDEO-PHONE TECHNOLOGY, AND VERY NEARLY WIPING OUT THE MARYLAND STATE EMPLOYEES’ RETIREMENT SYSTEM’S FREDDIE-MAC FUND, A FUND WHOSE ADMINISTRATOR’S MISTRESS’S BROTHER HAD BEEN AN ALMOST MANIACALLY PRECIPITANT VIDEO-PHONE-TECHNOLOGY ENTREPRENEUR…AND BUT SO WHY THE ABRUPT CONSUMER RETREAT BACK TO GOOD OLD VOICE-ONLY TELEPHONY?

The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the micro-economics of consumer high-tech.


You’ll have to grab the book (or borrow it from a friend, as I did) to read the rest.

It’s worth it!

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3 Responses

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  1. […] 24Nov08 So I never tied that David Foster Wallace passage to any concrete thoughts, mostly because those thoughts fluffy and dumb. This recent post by T got […]

  2. kevin moore said, on December 15, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    john,
    happy to stumble upon your blog. happy to hear that life exists after mit. i myself am reveling in a ‘leave of absence’ this year while in thailand with my researchin’ better half.

    had something to say about dfw, but now lost…

    ah, yes… i too borrowed the book from a friend in undergrad, and read feverishly to about pg 750, then happened into a conversation at a party where another friend mentioned how – following the theme of ubiquitous entertainment (as an end unto itself) – he (the friend) was unsure dfw would even care if the reader finished the novel. without fail, i couldn’t read more than a few pages after that talk before being derailed by the thought.

    as we are both racquet-sportsmen, there is of course much to love about dfw’s writing on the geometry and mentality of tennis. and the extended description of the breakdown of ‘the world game’ at the tennis academy in infinite jest will be reread when i next get my hand on the tome.

    -kevin

  3. johnsnavely said, on December 22, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Hey Kevin!

    Nice to see you around here. Thailand sounds like a great adventure and a nice break from “Tha Streets” of Cambridge.

    If you haven’t already, I highly recommend starting a thesis blog. (That’s what this once was.) It’s a nice repository for the effulgence of thought that comes from the process, but gets winnowed like crazy at the end.


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