Yet Gary posts dachshund photos to his Facebook page with captions like, "felix is generally considered the smartest dog on earth. but in this picture i can sense the pensiveness in his eyes. global warming, ongoing violence in uzbekistan, the stalemate in congress. it all takes a toll on this sweet, compassionate dachshund." Gary takes photos with his iPhone and sends them to people. Gary texts at the table.
"Like Christ, I am suffering for humanity," he told me. "I did all this research and plugging in for the book. I had very little contact with technology before that. I still have a Yahoo account, that's how old-school I am."
Gary the man can't overcome the allure of the shiny pounded metal objects, even when he wants to.
The Village Voice may have called Super Sad True Love Story "the finest piece of anti-iPhone propaganda ever written," but its deepest criticism is reserved for streaming, not gadget lust. When Lenny meets up with his old college pals, one has gone Media, which means that he broadcasts his entire life [See iJustine]. Narrating everything like a radio shock-jock, the friend cuts off Lenny, as he tries to describe a Roman arch, and asks, "All right, here's the situation Nee-gro. You have to fuck either Mother Theresa or Margaret Thatcher..."
Streams -- on AM radio, CNN, Ustream, or some future platform -- are products of seconds; they reflect the passions and occupations of a moment. Perhaps valuable in their own way, necessary for some things, but deeply attached to an instant. Streams say, "This is." They rarely have time to ask, "Why is this?" And they never seem to have time to answer that question.
Books are objects defined by how much time it takes to craft them -- and to consume them. They cannot be taken in at a glance. They are the distillation of many moments and states of consciousness for writer and reader alike. They slow us down and hold us steady. Books are technologies, too, and if we look at them that way, we should be amazed at how "sticky" they are, despite their lack of social media integration and bulkiness. As things, they have endured for hundreds of years while the rest of our technological society changed around them. We measure technologies by the maxim, "Does it work?" Books have worked.
The stream destroys what is most precious about a literate population: the ability to briefly stand alone outside time and social relations, to have an inner life. Berkeley historian Thomas Laqueur has persuasively argued that it was the rise of books that created pervasive societal interest in and fear of masturbation, the ultimate private pleasure, the "solitary vice." Masturbation, as we know it, began in 1712, he famously argued, and it was inextricably bound to reading (or to print literacy, we might say).
The slowness of books, the habits of mind they build, Shteyngart suggests, may be a key to knowing what it's like to be inside oneself, not part of the crowd or the audience or Twitterverse. "Reading is difficult," Lenny says to Eunice. "People just aren't meant to read anymore. We're in a post-literate age. You know, a visual age."