Viewing what isn’t there

Dystopia is nothing new in science fiction, but Gary Shteyngart tried a unique tact in his exceptional novel “Super Sad True Love Story” — a future where America is waning, and its inhabitants want to use technology to be young forever. Shteyngart simply plays forward the iPhone.

The brilliant media core of Shteyngart’s tale is something called the äppärät — a pebble-sized device everyone wears on pendants which cascades a Facebook/Twitter-like stream of social data in the air around them, combining the fakery of who we want to be vs. the grit of who we really are. In this forthcoming future, you can walk into a bar, tap your äppärät and see everyone else’s income, savings, credit scores, personal history and, um, f***ability rankings.

The novel’s protagonist Lenny discovers the latest äppärät updates one night out with his friends:

Streams of data were now fighting for time and space around us. The pretty girl I had just FACed was projecting my MALE HOTNESS as 120 out of 800, PERSONALITY 450, and something called SUSTAINABILITY at 630…

Vishnu worked my äppärät until some RANKINGS came up. He helped me navigate the data. “Out of the seven males in the Community,” he said, gesturing around the bar, “Noah’s the third hottest, I’m the fourth hottest, and Lenny’s the seventh.”

“You mean I’m the ugliest guy here?” I ran my fingers through the remnants of my hair.

“But you’ve got a decent personality,” Vishnu comforted me.

So today Engadget reports that Vuzix is producing augmented reality glasses that will track your visual location with motion sensors and overlay 3D representations of, well, whatever app-makers dream up. For $5,000 — a price that will fall rapidly, just as digital cameras and flat-screen TVs have done in the past — you could conceivably walk into a bar, tap your glasses and see a data overlay of everyone’s sexual aptitude or financial scores. Art has long forecast reality; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, James Cameron’s Terminator, Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, and most recently Wall-E’s fat humans on spaceships all pointed to engineering creations overwhelming our natural bodies and mental inputs. Eventually data we want to see may eclipse the blurry images of what exists. Lenny, here’s looking at you.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *