It has been quite a while that I read „Super Sad True Love Story“ but I have to think back to that novel every now and then, because it foreshadowed a lot that is happening in Social Media and Quantified-Self today. Apart from that, Gary Shteyngart’s book is a real fun read.
„Four young people committed suicide in our building complexes, and two of them wrote suicide notes about how they couldn’t see a future without their äppäräti. One wrote, quite eloquently, about how he „reached out to life“, but found there only „walls and thoughts and faces“, which weren’t enough. He needed to be ranked, to know his place in this world.
The book describes a not too far away future utopia, where people get all the information they need from their smartphones – the so called „äppäräti“. They are able to scan the people around to get all the knowledge about sexual preferences, health and social status and so on. For real news everyone reads the so called crisis.net. So, basically everything is transparent and information is seen as something to scan and not to dig into.
Everything has been gamified and made snackable: „The personality score depends on how ‚extro’ she is, Vishnu explained. „Check it out. This girl done got three thousand-plus Images, eight hundred streams, and a long multimedia thing on how her father abused her. Your äppärät runs that against the stuff you’ve downloaded about yourself and then it comes up with a score.“
Shteyngart describes a world based on metrics and data – where society is based on iterations and steady improvement. Everyone is ranked and promoted according to their stats. With Lenny Abramov being one of the very few individuals that resists. He is just too lazy and to melancholic to follow the rules. He is depressed by the world and escapes into antic behaviour: „Things had been rocky between us since I had relapsed and picked up a book, and she had caught me reading, not just text-scanning for data.“
What Shteyngart describes is a “lock-in” society before the term was actually phrased. People that don’t communicate virtually, basically don’t exist anymore. And without data and content production, existence doesn’t exist anymore: „and then one day (…), I would disappear from the Earth. And all these emotions, all these yearnings, all these data (…) would be gone.“
But like almost all Utopia, Shteyngart’s world also breaks apart. The US undergo a deep recession that result in anarchy and riots. Latin-American security forces and Chinese investors have to step in to stabilize the country. But the sudden break-down renders the whole data useless: “Shards of data all around us, useless rankings, useless streams, useless communiqués from a world that was no longer to a world that would never be.“
“Super Sad True Love Story” is a fun read and to some extent it is scary how accurate Shteyngart’s description of a near future are. And even the most bizarre pictures are very close to becoming true somehow. Okay, this book isn’t too old – and “quantified-self” has to prove it to be more then a hype. But Shteyngart offers a fun view on transhumanism by introducing Lenny Abramov, who is – despite all the benefits – just too lazy to iterate and improve on his current status. To me it is a very recent version of Max Frisch’s “Homo Faber” – a book I liked very much.
In August 2013 “The New Yorker” magazines asked Shteyngart to write about Google Glass. The report almost feels like a sequel of this novel: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/08/05/130805fa_fact_shteyngart?mobify=0
„Super Sad True Love Story“ from Gary Shteyngart. Published in 2010 by Random House. €10,90.