Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Gary Shteyngart, the very funny, Russian, American, Jewish author of Absurdistan and more recently Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian love story set in near future America, a country in decline, at war with Venezuela, and hopelessly dependent on the next generation of social media technology. The latter is brilliantly represented by the ubiquitous äppärat, a post-iPhone device worn around your neck that streams virtually everything about the people and world around you.
Walk into a bar and your äppärat immediately gives you the f**kability rating of everyone in the room. It tells you where you rank in attractiveness compared to others of the same gender. It even reveals people’s background, net worth and education, leaving you hardly any reason to “verbal” with peers or colleagues.
Shteyngart’s book is a love story about Lenny, a 30 something Russian immigrant who defies all things modern by still reading and cherishing books, and Eunice, a Korean immigrant, much younger than Lenny and far more attractive than anyone Lenny feels entitled to be sleeping with. Eunice spends most of her time shopping online.
What makes Super Sad True Love Story of interest to anyone reading here is the author’s portrayal of technology and social media. The book paints a picture of a future in which everyone is forever exposed in the social space. Lenny is listed publicly on a site labeling the 101 people who most deserve our pity. His aging Jewish parents in New Jersey can check their son’s f**ability ratings online. And that’s nothing compared to the condemnation Lenny receives for still reading books, which are disdained by most everyone for their mustiness and old smell.
As you can see in this short video, Shteyngart questions our dependence on technology, laments the fact that our vocabularies are diminishing and pokes fun at social media. During the Q and A after his reading he spoke passionately about the importance of seeking solitude and losing ourselves in the characters and worlds that only books can offer us.
Ironically however, while claiming to see little value in social media, preferring instead to verbal with real people, he’s marketing his book with a trailer on YouTube, a Facebook fan page, and even an iPhone app.
On a positive note, nearly 300 people attended his sold out reading at the Coolidge Corner Cinema in Brookline, Massachusetts where my TNGG (thenextgreatgeneration.com) friends and I met Gary for a pre-reading video interview. Few if any had their iPhones out during the reading. OK, I tweeted a couple of times, but only a couple.
If you still read formats other than blog posts and Twitter streams, give Gary a try. He’s considered by many one of the best under-40 authors in America.