Mobile devices from Super Sad True Love

Last week, Julian recommended me this book called "Super Sad True Love" by Gary Shteyngart. A long flight over to Fog City CA gave me plenty of time to peruse it carefully. It's a good novel set in a near future dominated by media, retail/commerce and the collapse of the US economy. It feels a bit like Steak crossed with Idiocracy. 

There are many interesting and humorous bits in the book (the critique of media/retail, the transhumanists perspective) but what caught my attention is the way smartphone usage is portrayed. Shteyngart use the term "äppärät" to refer to smartphone/mobile devices. The book offers various descriptions that shed some light on current socio-technological rituals, and upcoming ones:

About the device behavior:

"my äppärät buzzing with contacts, data, pictures, projections, maps, incomes, sound, fury"

"my äppärät began to produce its “heavy thinking” noises, a wheel desperately spinning inside its hard plastic shell, its ancient circuitry completely overtaxed by the otter and his antics. The words ERROR CODE IT/FC-GS/FLAG appeared on the screen"

"I’m learning to worship my new äppärät’s screen, the colorful pulsating mosaic of it, the fact that it knows every last stinking detail about the world, whereas my books only know the minds of their authors."

"My äppärät pinged."

"But even he seemed unimpressed, glancing impatiently at his äppärät, which was alive with at least seven degrees of information, numbers and letters and Images stacked on the screen, flowing and eddying against one another as the waters of the Tiber once did."

On device usage and gesturing practices:

"A half-dozen of my fellow citizens were seated behind their chewed-up desks, mumbling lowly into their äppäräti. There was an earplug lying slug-dead on an empty chair, and a sign reading INSERT EARPLUG IN EAR, PLACE YOUR ÄPPÄRÄT ON DESK, AND DISABLE ALL SECURITY SETTINGS."

 "I took out my äppärät, flicked it open in a gesture that was au courant maybe a decade ago, held it stupidly in front of me, put it back in my shirt pocket, then reached for a nearby bottle and refilled my glass."

"my äppärät picked up on some scan-able faces, an old-time porno star and a slick guy from Mumbai just starting out on his first worldwide Retail empire."

"I took out my äppärät and began to thump it loudly with my finger to show how much I loved all things digital, while sneaking nervous glances at the throbbing cavern around me, the wine-dulled business travelers lost to their own electronic lives."

"I took out my äppärät, but noticed that the new kids all had the new pebble-like model around their necks, the kind Eunice had worn."

"I lay in my bed, listening to Eunice teening furiously on her äppärät in the living room."

"her index fingers raised above the book as if ready to tap at the BUY ME NOW symbol on her äppärät,"

"Shu descended into another äppärät reverie. I did the same, pretending it was something serious and work-related, but really I was just GlobalTracing Eunice’s location."

Of course, there's a lot on social rituals, scanning, personal scores (which reminded me of Doctorow's reputation currency called 'whuffie') and surveillance:

"My äppärät data were sampled and scanned to a military äppärät by a young man who seemed to be missing a face beneath his cap’s long green visor."

"he wasn’t there. He didn’t have an äppärät, or it wasn’t set on “social” mode, or maybe he had paid some young Russian kid to have the outbound transmission blocked."

"They trooped past me, surprised, agitated, bemused, their äppäräti already projecting data about me, perhaps telling them how little I meant, my thirty-nine-year-old obsolescence."

"We need to get you a new äppärät,” he said. “You’re going to have to learn to surf the data streams better. Learn to rank people quicker.”

"Shu, a goddamn relentless immigrant in the mode of my janitor father but with English and good board scores on his side, was dealing with three äppäräti at once, his callused fingertips and spitfire Chinatown diction abuzz with data and the strong, dull hope that he was squarely in control."

“Learn how to use this thing immediately,” Shu told me. “Especially the RateMe part. Learn to rate everyone around you. Get your data in order. Switch on CrisisNet and follow all the latest. An ill-informed salesman is dead in the water these days. Get your mind in the right place."

"I put the name of my oldest Media pal, Noah Weinberg, into my äppärät and learned that he would be airing our reunion live on his GlobalTeens stream, “The Noah Weinberg Show!,” which made me nervous at first, but, then, this is exactly the kind of thing I have to get used to if I’m going to make it in this world"

“Damn, cabrón,” Noah said, eyeing my pebble. “Whuddat, a 7.5 with RateMe Plus? I’m going to stream that shit fucking close-up.” He filmed my äppärät with his äppärät, while I swallowed another mug of triglycerides."

“‘FAC? What’s that? Who am I? Where’s my diaper?’” “It means ‘Form A Community,’” Vishnu said. “It’s, like, a way to judge people. And let them judge you.” He took my äppärät, and slid some settings until an icon labeled “FAC” drifted onto the screen. “When you see FAC, you press the EmotePad to your heart, or wherever it can feel your pulse.” Vishnu pointed out the sticky thing on the back of my äppärät that I thought could be used to attach it to a dashboard or a fridge. Wrong again. “Then,” Vishnu continued, “you look at a girl. The EmotePad picks up any change in your blood pressure. That tells her how much you want to do her.”

“Set up your Community Parameters. Make it ‘Immediate Space 360’—that’ll cover the whole bar. Now look at a girl, then press the pad to your heart.” I looked at the pretty brunette, at the hairless crotch glowing from within her see-through Onionskin jeans, at the lithe body crouched imperiously atop a set of smooth legs, at her worried smile. Then I touched my heart with the back of my äppärät, trying to fill it with my warmth, my natural desire for love. The girl across the bar laughed immediately without even turning my way. A bunch of figures appeared on my screen: “FUCKABILITY 780/800, PERSONALITY 800/800, ANAL/ORAL/VAGINAL PREFERENCE 1/3/2.”

“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. Like, you’ve dated a lot of abused girls, so it knows you’re into that shit"

"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, “and you’re second in the whole bar in terms of SUSTAINABILIT¥.”

And finally on attention and disconnection:

"She really listened to me. She paid attention to me. She never even looked at her äppärät while I was speaking to her."

"My äppärät isn’t connecting. I can’t connect. No one’s äppäräti are working anymore. “It’s an NNEMP,” all the thirty something Media wizards hanging out in the lobby of our building are saying with finality. A Nonnuclear Electromagnetic Pulse."

"Eunice had opened up her äppärät and was concentrating on the last shopping page stored in its memory before communications collapsed. I could see she had instinctively opened a LandOLakes Credit Payment stream, but every time she tried to input her account info, she ended up throwing her head back as if stung. “I can’t buy anything,” she said. “Eunice,” I said. “You don’t have to buy anything. Go to bed.

Why do I blog this? I started recently a follow-up project to "Curious Rituals", in which I'm exploring smartphone usage. I'm mostly interested in people's gestural and postural habits with these devices. Shteyngart's writing is spot and offer a fascinated perspective on this topic. The humor and accuracy of his descriptions are impressive and it's fascinated to see how such a novel offer a good ethnographic perspective on mobile technology. The fact that it's set in the near future is also pertinent, as some of the features are just a stretch from existing practices.




Really the Fake: Derived, Diacritic'd, Differenced Things

Thursday February 04, 07.00.26

A Wii Mote and a Wii ‘KLIK-on’ Candy Dispenser which uses the ‘B’ trigger control to dispense little candy pills.

Wednesday February 03 13:42

Something Tom Clancy — the guy who writes worlds he wishes he inhabited, which is always a good motivation for a riveting tale — and something written by someone who can write like Tom Clancy, but doesn’t have the surname value share but can participate in the *Branded story world owned/possessed by Tom Clancy…all signaled by the diacritic there — the apostrophe.

Thursday February 04, 06.57.14

The enormously popular video game Call of Duty 4…and a DVD about the *real-world sticky situations the kinds of people — Delta, SEALS, mercenaries, Blackwater/Xe, Rangers, Special Ops guys — Call of Duty 4 simulates, all done up in a DVD case that clearly signals in its visual design the simulation game.

A trio of things found over time that came together in their pattern of derived associations. I’m sure these were done in a pragmatic fit of trying to get some uptake by resonating with existing things/objects/markets and so on. Pretty standard stuff, with the Wii and the Call of Duty thing being the more dodgy instances. The apostrophe’d Tom Clancy business was certainly a planned business franchising effort, along with all the other *Tom Clancy Presents sort of derivatives, like video games and bomber pilot jackets and aviator style sunglasses, all designed to inhabit the personas and worlds authored by Tom Clancy’s genre of mil-intel-tech fiction. (And probably inhabited by those least likely to actually have the extra bit of *umph to *actually participate in such worlds.)

Why do I blog this? These patterns of reproduction, derivation and so on are intriguing. Perhaps less so from the pragmatic, business perspective — like, the cringe I sometimes feel when one thing is clearly done so as to participate in the swirl of interest that a canonical, market-making product/idea/service/new-interaction-ritual. Which comes first, what does this kind of priority really matter or even mean? When does *doing it right trump *doing it first? And, anyway — what are the measures of *doing it right? Most sales? Most uptake? Beautiful to use? I’m thinking of things other than candy dispensers, story franchises and FPS’s, of course.

You know, like — *touch quite clearly forced everyone to talk/make/market *touch devices in such a knee-jerk way it was embarrassing to watch (and participate in, I suppose) quite frankly. The same thing is happening with *Moleskine-sized pad/slate/tablet things. There will be lots of things that signal a new kind of computing (*casual, *livingroom, *sofa) and we’ll call them (with a rueful, dubious look in the direction of the naming guys) *Pad’s, which will be like calling a box of generic brand tissues you buy from your corner drugstore — Kleenex.

The point here but the ways in which variants, originals, mix-matched and mismatched continuations of *something circulate, imbricate, overlap and so on — this I find intriguing. I guess it’s less about what is real, original, fake or a morph — more about these physical, material metaphor of continuity and perpetuation and derivation.

At the end of the end of the day, does it matter *who put the wheels on luggage? Or does it matter, in a make-the-world-a-more-habitable-place kind of way — that someone mustered the resources/people/alliances to put the damn wheels on there and save us all from having crooked backs and Popeye-big forearms? Mixed opinions here at the Laboratory on how and in what way the *original matters.
Continue reading Really the Fake: Derived, Diacritic'd, Differenced Things

The Week Ending Today 251209

Naturally, it was a holiday week so not all that much was going on, except that there was of course plenty going on. As pertains the Laboratory, we’ve been fussing around with various tool chains for doing matchmoving animations, perhaps something useful for performing designed fictions to explore and experiment with new ideas. Most recently, it’s been Syntheyes and Maya. Bit of a muddle — it’s a bit more involved than I had initially hoped, especially for hand-held camera work, but even so for tripod moves.


We’ll figure it out. One thing learned is the importance of perspective revealed in the shot. In fact, perhaps it is more important to have movement than not, I think.

Holiday Reading Stack

On other fronts, these books were piled up as the reading list for the coming weeks. Probably no hope of truly finishing these — but we aspire.

Continue reading The Week Ending Today 251209

Mail Call

Monday July 20, 12.14.48


Monday July 20, 20.25.01

Four parcels in one day, all good, gooey, design-y stuff.

What’d we get?

1. A collection of four “designmind” journals from Dawn up at Frog Design in Seattle.

2. A parcel from Zero Per Zero consisting of about 15 subway and city maps of various cities around the world — Barcelona rules, FTW.

3. A VHS Tape that is labeled “Back to the Future” — but I suspect it is something else about the future, from Chris Woebken. I’ll have to find a VHS deck at the studio or something to see this for real.

4. Nicolas Nova’s book recently released. Let me use the Laboratory’s brand-spankin’ new Universal Translator to tell you the title: “Les medias geolocalises”

That’s it.

Why do I blog this? We have never received four parcels of such promise in one day.

Continue reading Mail Call