Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

jest the first

I really think Infinite Jest ought to be discussed as a novel, rather than a prophecy, but there’s no way of avoiding some acknowledgement of the latter element. Jason Kottke posted recently about the novel’s anticipation of Apple’s FaceTime technology, but it also anticipates Peapod (online ordering and delivery of groceries, though in IJ by teenagers driving their own cars, like pizza delivery people) and Netflix (entertainment “cartridges” arriving in the mail) and who knows what else. Early in the book we even see the phrase “killer apps,” which I did not think existed in the early- to mid- 90s, when Wallace was writing the book.

But in some respects the book is already taking on the aura of retro-futurism. Consider those “cartridges,” for instance: physical media for movies? Dude, how old-school can you get? And there are points in the book when people are doing the equivalent of a Google search — a “B.P.L. ArchFax database search” — and get, like, four hundred hits for their search term. Hard to believe that once sounded like an avalanche of data.

More on ArchFax database searches in a later post. . . .


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