The author of the international best-seller Super Sad True Love Story explains his dystopian take on a future with smart advertising and dumb people
Not everyone sees the rapid advance of social media and digital technology as an unalloyed good. For a different view of where technology is taking us, we called Gary Shteyngart, author of the best-selling novel Super Sad True Love Story. The novel is set in a dystopian New York City in the not-too-distant future. The US economy has collapsed. The Chinese are circling, eager to collect on their US debt. Demonstrators have taken over Central Park. Yet most people seem far more concerned with monitoring their social status on their electronic devices than with the state of society. Shteyngart talked with Mary Kuntz, managing editor of What Matters.
Mary Kuntz: Let's start with the technology in Super Sad True Love Story, which is both very familiar and very surprising. You've taken social media to a logical extreme, to a point at which it becomes antisocial media. Can you describe the devices? What's a credit pole and what is an apparat, for example?
Gary Shteyngart: A credit pole is a way for the government to know what your creditworthiness is, because the big problem in the society is that nobody has enough credit. Credit poles are found on sidewalks in major metropolitan areas, and as you walk by they tell you what your credit rating is.
The apparat is worn around the neck as a pendant, and it has what's called RateMe Plus technology. Let's say you walk into a bar; it says, "OK, you're the third-ugliest man in here, but you have the fifth-best credit rating," things like that. Everyone is constantly ranked and constantly assessing everyone else's ranking, which is similar to the society we already live in.